I'm a computer programmer, and last night my friends and I were arguing about a hypothetical situation where social networking sites could be liable for the actions of its users.
I will reiterate that this is a *hypothetical* question; this question does not involve me personally in any way, shape or form.
Let's say you have two Facebook users. One user, call him/her Person A, has knowledge about Person B that is private and sensitive in nature. Person A posts that information up on Facebook for all the world to see. Let's say this information includes a terribly embarassing fact about the person's past, as well as their social security number and credit card. Let's say that Person A, in addition to posting flagrantly-personal information, also makes some libelous statements about Person B: "Person B was arrested for manslaughter back in 1945." (Since Person B was born in, say, 1970, there is no way this is even possible).
What I'm interested is this: is Facebook liable here for contributing to this publication of Person B's private info, and/or for the making of these libelous statements?
Even though it was Person A who wrote those libelous/defaming comments, and published that private information, it is Facebook who delivers the medium by which those comments reach the outside world. No one at Facebook made the offending comments - but could Facebook be on the hook here? And of course, I recognize that different states and different courts have different rules and interpretations...I'm looking for hypothetical, ballpark, generic consensus.
I've brushed up on NYS (I'm a Yankee) and federal law regarding both publishing private information as well as libel, but in the context of the internet, it is hard to distinguish the role and liability that Facebook plays as the "middle man" here.
If someone were to grafitti "John Doe of 123 ABC Lane, Bronx, NY was convicted on manslaughter in 1945" on the side of some building, and that statement was false & damaging to John Doe, he wouldn't be able to sue the building owner for being partially-liable. That would be ridiculous! Why not sue the spray paint manufacturer as well! I have to assume the same goes for Facebook and other social networking sites in these types of situations.
Then again, I freelance at $65/hr, a little ways below the paygrade of an esquire.