When Minors, Lawsuits and Facebook Collide

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September 2, 2010 – It seems Facebook is the center of attention everywhere these days. From marketing to gaming, privacy scandals, and now legal evidence, the social media giant just can’t stay out of the limelight.

businessman in suit with hands in handcuffs

Facebook fights the California courts.

While Facebook has been used in the past as evidence in criminal cases, it’s also had its fair share of time in court for its own reasons. The latest legal battle comes from a lawsuit filed by the State of California against Facebook claiming that the social media network is misappropriating minors’ names and profile photos when they “like” a page.

The lawsuit comes from a 1971 California law that states a company cannot use the name or likeness of a person in advertising without that person’s consent. This goes for minor children as well, whose parents must consent. When a Facebook user “likes” a page, they’re unknowingly allowing their name and face to show up in promotional results saying “_____ likes this page” or showing up in a box of “likers” on the page’s follower list.

(Writers’ Note: It was so much easier to write about Facebook when they were called fan pages and fans…the change to “like” was so unnecessary! – LM)

Legal analysts can see both sides of the issue. In support of the State of California, when a user “likes” a page there’s no filter to sort out whether they’re a minor or not, and there’s no real control to omit your name/image from promoting the page by showing other users that have “liked” the page.

On Facebook’s side, the use of the “like” feature is totally voluntary, and some argue that it’s no different than posting a status message talking about the product/band/celebrity.
If you “like” the band Incubus it appears in your newsfeed and you can potentially show up in the “# people like this” side box. This is essentially the same as posting “Wow, just listened to the new Incubus album – great stuff!” is the same as clicking that “like” button.

The counter argument to that is that a status update only shows to those you allow – friends, friends of friends, everyone. Being included in the number of likes on a page is visible to anyone who views that page – still violating the 1971 law.

So what will be the fate of Facebook’s fan-based promotion tactics?
Only the courts can tell, but one thing’s for sure, it won’t set the social media giant back too far on its quest for social dominance.

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