Anything You Say On Facebook Can And Will Be Held Against You
Seems like hardly a month goes by without news about somebody’s social network profile getting them in trouble either with their school, with work, or with the court system. The two most recent cases come out of Canada, where a college student was put on probation for badmouthing a professor online, and a litigant may have to divulge information on his private Facebook account.
The University of Calgary slapped young Keith Pridgen with two years worth of academic probation after posting a message on the wall of Facebook group called “I no longer fear Hell, I took a course with [instructor’s name].”
This CBC article doesn’t say whether other students in the group faced similar discipline, though the group was removed from Facebook possibly on grounds of terms of service violation, but it does detail the message that got Pridgen in hot water:
"[Instructor’s name] IS NO LONGER TEACHING ANY COURSES AT THE U OF C!!!!! Remember when she told us she was a long-term prof? Well actually she was only sessional and picked up our class at the last moment because another prof wasn’t able to do it .. lucky us. Well anyways I think we should all congratulate ourselves for leaving a [instructor’s name]-free legacy for future [law and society] students."
Teacher bashing has a long and sometimes unfair academic tradition (especially in instances where teachers actually expect students to put forth some effort), though it likely has never been so public, or a matter of potential defamation. Pridgen states it’s a matter of free speech, and that’s certainly hard to argue with. It’s also hard to imagine a university, which deals with adults, finding justification for slapping down student criticism with such a heavy hand.
In other news, a man suing for injuries from a car accident has been ordered by a Toronto judge to answer questions about content on his private Facebook account. The accident occurred in 2004, and the plaintiff is claiming it led to lessened enjoyment of life.
The lawyer for the defense posed this hypothetical:
"If you are alleging that, as a result of an accident, you have not been able to enjoy life the same way and there is a photo taken after the accident showing you skiing or exercising … that could be relevant."
Likely there are personal injury and insurance company lawyers Stateside paying close attention to that logic. Expect similar arguments in US courts soon, and expect lawyers to ask plaintiffs to scrub their online personas before filing suits.