Category Archives: Proposed Legislation

New Jersey Proposes Social Networking Safety Act

Proposed Legislation: Social Networking: Our attorneys previously co-authored an article entitled  Wrongful Posting on the Internet: The Privacy You Save Could be Your Own. It discussed privacy and other legal issues related to online statements. The article discussed real-life predicaments such as the unfortunate story of a young Missouri girl who committed suicide after having allegedly been harassed on the MySpace social networking website. As the use of social networking websites has grown exponentially, so too have the sordid stories of misuse of those sites for online harassment and sexual harassment.

Since the then-current law was devoid of remedies to specifically address the damages presented by this new trend, in their article, Mr. Nissenbaum and Ms. Magedoff predicted that state legislatures would begin to enact laws to specifically address these issues. New Jersey now appears to be at the forefront of this movement since the New Jersey legislature is currently considering the Social Networking Safety Act. The law proposes imposition of civil penalties for social networking users who transmit a harassing or sexually offensive communication through a social networking website. An offender would be liable to a website operator for $1000.00 plus attorneys fees and would be liable to the recipient of the communication for the greater of (a) actual damages (including compensatory and punitive damages) or (b) $50000.00 plus attorneys’ fees. Notably, certain versions of the pending bill appear to be aimed at communications both (a) to minors under 13 years old and (b) in the event that the communications are sent from someone who is at least 3 years older than the recipient, to those who are younger than 16.

It is critical to understand how this potential law might apply to social networking website operators. Similar to the Federal Communications Decency Act’s immunity, the proposed law seeks to provide a limited immunity to the website operator. However, the it would also impose certain requirements on the website to ensure that it qualifies for that immunity. Specifically, there is a statutory reporting protocol that would need to be adhered to by the website OR they would need to clearly and conspicuously state on the website specific, statutorily-mandated language that indicates they are not complying with those requirements. Failure to adhere to one of these requirements could result in the website operator being liable for the harassing or sexually offensive speech of its users.

Accordingly, all social networking website operators need to be aware of the new requirements that would be imposed upon them if this bill passes. Inevitably, the law would require certain changes to the website text and/or its terms and conditions. Moreover, it is important that website operators understand that this law is aimed at communications that are directed at New Jersey residents. Therefore, it arguably would not make a difference whether the website itself is based in New Jersey; if New Jersey residents utilize the website, it will arguably need to comply with the edicts of the law.

We strongly recommend that all website operators keep abreast of this pending legislation and ensure that they consult with counsel if the law is enacted to be sure that they are complying in a manner that allows them to take advantage of the limited immunity being offered under the law.

Comments/Questions: ljm@gdnlaw.com

© 2009 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

New Jersey Proposes Social Networking Safety Act

Proposed Legislation: Social Networking: Our attorneys previously co-authored an article entitled  Wrongful Posting on the Internet: The Privacy You Save Could be Your Own. It discussed privacy and other legal issues related to online statements. The article discussed real-life predicaments such as the unfortunate story of a young Missouri girl who committed suicide after having allegedly been harassed on the MySpace social networking website. As the use of social networking websites has grown exponentially, so too have the sordid stories of misuse of those sites for online harassment and sexual harassment.

Since the then-current law was devoid of remedies to specifically address the damages presented by this new trend, in their article, Mr. Nissenbaum and Ms. Magedoff predicted that state legislatures would begin to enact laws to specifically address these issues. New Jersey now appears to be at the forefront of this movement since the New Jersey legislature is currently considering the Social Networking Safety Act. The law proposes imposition of civil penalties for social networking users who transmit a harassing or sexually offensive communication through a social networking website. An offender would be liable to a website operator for $1000.00 plus attorneys fees and would be liable to the recipient of the communication for the greater of (a) actual damages (including compensatory and punitive damages) or (b) $50000.00 plus attorneys’ fees. Notably, certain versions of the pending bill appear to be aimed at communications both (a) to minors under 13 years old and (b) in the event that the communications are sent from someone who is at least 3 years older than the recipient, to those who are younger than 16.

It is critical to understand how this potential law might apply to social networking website operators. Similar to the Federal Communications Decency Act’s immunity, the proposed law seeks to provide a limited immunity to the website operator. However, the it would also impose certain requirements on the website to ensure that it qualifies for that immunity. Specifically, there is a statutory reporting protocol that would need to be adhered to by the website OR they would need to clearly and conspicuously state on the website specific, statutorily-mandated language that indicates they are not complying with those requirements. Failure to adhere to one of these requirements could result in the website operator being liable for the harassing or sexually offensive speech of its users.

Accordingly, all social networking website operators need to be aware of the new requirements that would be imposed upon them if this bill passes. Inevitably, the law would require certain changes to the website text and/or its terms and conditions. Moreover, it is important that website operators understand that this law is aimed at communications that are directed at New Jersey residents. Therefore, it arguably would not make a difference whether the website itself is based in New Jersey; if New Jersey residents utilize the website, it will arguably need to comply with the edicts of the law.

We strongly recommend that all website operators keep abreast of this pending legislation and ensure that they consult with counsel if the law is enacted to be sure that they are complying in a manner that allows them to take advantage of the limited immunity being offered under the law.

Comments/Questions: ljm@gdnlaw.com

© 2009 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC

New Jersey Proposes Legislation Regarding Online Harrassment of Minors

Proposed Legislation:  A new bill was recently proposed to the New Jersey legislature, which appears to be, in large part, a reaction to the infamous story of Megan Meir, the Missouri teenager that committed suicide after being defrauded on the MySpace.com website.  The now-all-too-famous story is that a neighbor, and arguably the mother of that neighbor, created a false identity on MySpace, purporting to be a young man interested in dating Megan.  Megan allegedly committed suicide once her “suitor” indicated that he was no longer interested in her.  Among other things, the proposed legislation would make it a crime for a person to utilize the Internet to represent himself “to be another person without the express authorization or written approval of that person, for the purpose of harassment of a minor child. . .”  While the law is well-intended, I believe it currently lacks many of the limitations and protections that will need to be incorporated to make it workable.  For instance, the bill, as drafted, would have it apply to “any person.”  Does this mean that a minor engaging in such misrepresentations would be equally guilty as an adult doing so?  Moreover, there could be other instances when the prohibited conduct may be necessary.  For instance, as drafted, the law would arguably prohibit Chris Hansen and his crew’s actions in their How to Catch a Predator series, since the law specifically prohibits posing online as someone younger with the intent that someone will try to make contact with that purported minor. That being said, legislation in this arena is sorely needed.  Hopefully this bill will evolve in a manner that makes it both enforceable and effective. 

Comments/Questions:

ljm@gdnlaw.com

New Jersey Proposes Legislation Regarding Online Harrassment of Minors

Proposed Legislation:  A new bill was recently proposed to the New Jersey legislature, which appears to be, in large part, a reaction to the infamous story of Megan Meir, the Missouri teenager that committed suicide after being defrauded on the MySpace.com website.  The now-all-too-famous story is that a neighbor, and arguably the mother of that neighbor, created a false identity on MySpace, purporting to be a young man interested in dating Megan.  Megan allegedly committed suicide once her “suitor” indicated that he was no longer interested in her.  Among other things, the proposed legislation would make it a crime for a person to utilize the Internet to represent himself “to be another person without the express authorization or written approval of that person, for the purpose of harassment of a minor child. . .”  While the law is well-intended, I believe it currently lacks many of the limitations and protections that will need to be incorporated to make it workable.  For instance, the bill, as drafted, would have it apply to “any person.”  Does this mean that a minor engaging in such misrepresentations would be equally guilty as an adult doing so?  Moreover, there could be other instances when the prohibited conduct may be necessary.  For instance, as drafted, the law would arguably prohibit Chris Hansen and his crew’s actions in their How to Catch a Predator series, since the law specifically prohibits posing online as someone younger with the intent that someone will try to make contact with that purported minor. That being said, legislation in this arena is sorely needed.  Hopefully this bill will evolve in a manner that makes it both enforceable and effective. 

Comments/Questions: ljm@gdnlaw.com

New Jersey Proposes Legislation Requiring Websites to Remove Defamatory Content and Reveal Information about Posters of Defamatory Content

Proposed Legislation:  Currently pending in the New Jersey legislature is bill A1827, which proposes a requirement that all Internet computer services and Internet service providers remove defamatory materials and disclose account information to defamed individuals.  Specifically, if passed, this law would require a website to adhere to two new requirements. First it would be required to remove defamatory materials once it has received notice from a user that the materials are “defamatory and offensive.”  Second, it would require a website to disclose “relevant account information” when the website has posted defamatory content about the requesting individual.

The proposed law would greatly enhance the remedies available to a person or business who has been defamed on line.  Currently most websites take the position that (a) they are immune from liability relating to other posters’ defamation; (b) they are not obligated to take down such information; and (c) if you want to obtain such information about the actual speaker of the defamatory material, you need to obtain a subpoena.  This position is bolstered by some of the cases that have come down on this issue, including ones that have specifically denied a user the right to obtain information about an anonymous poster.  Whereas previously a website or forum host could try to avail itself of immunity under the Communications Decency Act, this law, if passed would provide direct responsibilities and liability for the website for failure to comply with the statute’s requirements.  Moreover, it could enable a victim to obtain information about the wrongdoer without having to obtain an order to show cause, or otherwise commence suit to simply obtain the identity of the responsible. 

On the other hand, if passed, this law could cause undue harm to website owners in that they would now have the burden of policing their sites.  Although the law only requires that materials be removed once the website has been put on notice, websites are now tasked with the responsibility of determining whether the complained-of content is “defamatory and offensive.”  This determination is often to be made by a trier-of-fact, and is therefore perhaps inappropriate for website owners to determine.  If this law passed, our recommendation to such websites would surely be to err on the conservative side, and take down any and all content that it receives a complaint about.  However, an argument could certainly be made that such efforts, and requirements under the law, could impair free speech.

Comments/Questions: ljm@gdnlaw.com