Social Media attorneys explain the real-life legal consequences of hacking into someone’s Facebook account or other online profile.
Imagine waking up one morning to texts from your friends and family asking about your recent Facebook posts. You’re receiving screenshots of Facebook posts and Direct Messages that you know you would never send – and in fact, that you didn’t. When you try to login into your Facebook page, your password isn’t working, and you realize someone must’ve changed it. When you try to reset it, you realize you’re also locked out of your email account!
This nightmare isn’t hypothetical. Insider reports that 533 million Facebook users’ phone numbers and personal data have been leaked online. We’ve also seen it happen to clients more than once. In fact, a woman named “Blair” (fake name) says she’s been the victim of Facebook fraud at the hands of her former lover.
Blair filed a defamation lawsuit in response to the hacking, but the court dismissed the case because the statute of limitations had run out. The statute of limitations in most states for defamation is only one-year. See RM Warner’s Statute Of Limitations Guide Here. All was not lost however, as an appeals court panel later reversed the lower court’s decision allowing Blair to continue with her online defamation case.
This lawsuit is important because it highlights the consequences of hacking into someone’s Facebook account or other social media profile. But more importantly, there are severe consequences for hacking into another person’s Facebook or other social media account, under the federal law, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Blair is locked out of her Facebook account and her email and suspects someone is using the accounts to send messages impersonating her. Frustrated and furious, Blair hires a Social Media Law attorney to discuss her options and further investigate the hacking. Luckily, her lawyer was able to find proof that someone was in fact using her email account to send phony messages.
When Blair’s attorney asked who she suspects to be hacking into her accounts, she assumed it was her ex-boyfriend’s jealous new flame. However, to her dismay, the alleged culprit turned out to be the ex-boyfriend, who allegedly confessed.
Lawsuit Tossed by Lower Court
Initially, the case was tossed in a lower court because Blair waited too long to file charges. However, later, a three-judge appeals court found that even though the statutes of limitations had expired for the email hacking, Blair could still move forward with Facebook claims.
So, why did the appeals court agree with the lower court about the email claims, but disagreed about the Facebook claims? Well, the appeals court made their decision considering the persistent realities of present-day digital life. If you think about it, an email can do a significant amount of damage, but a social media post that has the potential to go viral can follow someone for their whole life and live on the Internet forever.
What are the Consequences of Hacking, Defaming, or Misappropriating via Social Media?
It may be tempting to try and hack into another person’s social account, whether you’re simply playing a prank on a friend or taking revenge on an ex-lover. But if you understand the severe consequences, it is not worth it. Hacking into someone else’s Facebook or other social media account may be a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and may also breach numerous state impersonation, privacy, and Internet Law statues. Therefore, if Blair hypothetically won her case, her ex-boyfriend could not only receive jail time, but also find himself in bankruptcy court due to massive fines.
Under the United States Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), anyone who, without authorization or in excess of authorization, intentionally accesses a computer which is used in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or communication and thereby obtains information for commercial advantage or private financial gain or in excess of $5,000 in value shall be punished with a fine or imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or both. 18 U.S.C.S. § 1030. Anyone who suffers such damage or loss may maintain a civil action against the violator to obtain compensatory damages and injunctive relief or other equitable relief.
Not so Fast…There Are Also Legal Consequences for Those Who Don’t Even Hack
Just because you don’t hack into someone’s account doesn’t mean you have the right to spread lies about another person using an account you created yourself (for example, a “spoof” account). Spreading false and defamatory information is defamation and may also be a false light invasion of privacy. Victims of fake spoof accounts that spread false and defamatory information have the option to sue and seek discovery into who created the account, and possibly to even recover damages.
Think you won’t get caught if you create an online alias? Think again. An experienced Internet Lawyer can use the discovery process to track down your information by suing, issuing a subpoena to Facebook or an Internet provider, and catch you red handed.
Lastly, what about stealing someone’s social media profile?
As an Internet law firm, we’ve recently came across new cases that deal with a social media account being stolen. Now, what exactly does that mean and what are the legal consequences?
For starters, if the account that was stolen was hacked and the password was changed, that is very illegal, like we have discussed above. Secondly, as social media has become a way for businesses to advertise and reach potential clients, it has become a very valuable tool – that if taken into the wrong hands – can immensely damage a business or brand. That being said, victims of stolen social media accounts have the option to sue the thief for unfair competition, invasion of privacy, defamation and more. So, think twice before doing something similar.
6 ABC has helpful tips to help with hacked Facebook accounts, however if those tips don’t work, don’t worry! We’re here to help also.
Are you dealing with the hacking of a social media account, or spoofed account, or otherwise In Need Of An Experienced Social Media Lawyer? Get In Touch With RM Warner Law Today.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2019 and has been updated in September 2021.