Friday, January 8, 2010

The Legal Definition of a Facebook Friend

According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, the top two definitions of the word "friend" are:

1 a
: one attached to another by affection or esteem b: acquaintance
2 a
: one that is not hostile b: one that is of the same nation, party, or group.

The New Oxford Dictionary's 2009 word of the year was "unfriend." The New Oxford Dictionary recognizes "unfriend" as a verb, and defines "unfriend" to mean "to remove someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook."

Therefore, I would deduce that the New Oxford Dictionary would define the verb "friend" to mean, "to add someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook." When I looked for the definition of a "Facebook Friend" on Facebook, I could not find a definition. As far as I could determine, it is not defined on Facebook. When I looked on other online dictionaries, Black's Law Dictionary, and other online legal dictionaries, I could not find a legal definition for "Facebook Friend."

I would like to create a legal definition for a "Facebook Friend." A "Facebook Friend" is someone whom is added to your network on a social media website. A "Facebook Friend" may or may not be someone with whom you have ever met or interacted with other than requesting that he or she be added to your network or that you confirmed that he or she be added to your network.

Some "Facebook Friends" are close friends with whom you keep in touch with on a regular basis. Some "Facebook Friends" are people with whom you have not spoken with for 10-20 years, while others may only be "Facebook Friends" of "Facebook Friends." Some people are "Facebook Friends" with movie stars and other people deemed famous only because a "Friend Request" was sent and accepted.

If a "Friend Request" is accepted and two people are "Facebook Friends" that does not mean that these two people are actual friends or have any contact other than an acceptance of a "Friend Request." A Facebook user has the ability through his or her privacy controls to limit what some "Facebook Friends" are able to view about them. For example, some "Facebook Friends" are able to view personal information about their "Facebook Friends" while others are not.

The reason for creating a legal definition of a "Facebook Friend" is that the U.S. legal system may one day need to create a definition to determine possible attorney or witness conflicts of interest, or jury tampering.

The bottom line is that just because two people are "Facebook Friends" does not mean that either person actually knows each other. In other words, "Facebook Friending" may be just the online equivalent of handing out your business card to a complete stranger. To learn more about this issue you may contact me at www.shearlaw.com

Copyright 2010 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.

2 comments:

  1. Would you consider contact via any of the social medias to be an acceptable legal form of contact?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I know that a few countries are experimenting with this; however, until there is an acceptable authentication process it may not be a good idea due to the large number of fake social media accounts across many of the platforms.

    ReplyDelete