While many of us struggle to keep up to date with the latest social media trends, the legal system often lags even further behind.
A woman in New York may have violated a protective order when she tagged another woman in a Facebook post. Maria Gonzalez was ordered to cease contacting another woman by “electronic or other means.” After Gonzalez tagged the woman, she wrote on her social media page, “You and your family are sad...You guys have to come stronger than that!! I'm way over you guys but I guess not in ya agenda.”
Gonzalez's attorney argued that the order did not specifically indicate Facebook posts were off-limits. However, the judge in the case, Westchester County Supreme Court Justice Susan Capeci said that type of conduct was a violation of the protective order.
As social media becomes more integrated into our everyday lives, the law is finding ways to adapt to technology and how people interact online. While “no contact” protective orders usually include any online conduct, judges may be unsure how to treat a “tag”, “like” or “retweet” when an individual is the subject of a no-contact protective order.
Another problem with alleged crimes involving the internet is that the anonymous nature of the online activity may allow unlawful contact to go undetected, and at the same time permit an individual to be falsely accused of violating an order.
In another case in Massachusetts, a woman was accused of violating a protective order through the use of a Pinterest account. Pinterest is a photo-sharing website that allows users to upload, sort, and manage images, as well as view and share other users' images. Rebecca Shaw had a restraining order preventing her from contacting her estranged daughter. Then the daughter received an online notification that a “Rebecca Shaw” was now following her Pinterest page.
Rebecca Shaw's attorney has argued that anyone could have set up the account. Additionally, even if Rebecca did set up the account, it was Pinterest that sent the notification to her daughter. The judge in the case noted the novel nature of online access and contact, questioning whether this situation was like a person with a 100-foot restraining order standing 120 feet away.
In a similar situation, a man in Massachusetts was jailed when Google sent out an email to an ex-girlfriend who had a restraining order against him. Even though Thomas Gagnon never took any action to have the email sent to his ex-girlfriend, he was arrested for violating the protective order. Google+ may have automatically sent the ex-girlfriend an email to invite her to join. The charges against the man were later dropped.
A teacher in Oklahoma was arrested on suspicion of violating a protective order by contacting a former student. The teacher and coach, Clifton Wayne Smith, Jr. allegedly made threatening statements against the former student on social media, including one post which read, “You may be safe if I so desire.” According to police, the online contact was in violation of the terms of the protective order.