Social Network Law

A social network service is an online service, platform or Web site that specializes in building social networks and relations among people who share similar friends, connections, backgrounds, interests and hobbies.  Social network sites allow users to share photos, interests, activities, events and comments within their individual networks, but the disclosure and dissemination of such material often leads to unanticipated problems that can be near-impossible to resolve.  The law in this area is in constant flux and largely unsettled, although there have been some recent developments and legislation in the works that directly relate to this area.

Fake Profiles

In many cases someone has created and uploaded a fake profile of a friend, foe or celebrity to a social networking or personal relationship site.  While the Web site is generally protected from liability, the person posting the fake profile can face liability and be sued directly.  If you have been a fake profile victim, there are certain tools you can employ to harness the social network’s cooperation in removing the fake profile and uncovering the perpetrator’s identity in order to pursue legal action directly against him or her.

Guard Your Privacy and Reputation

In order to effectively guard your reputation, you should regularly search your name online in multiple search engines to see what crops up.  People often fail to consider that more people than their friends and loved ones may be viewing the personal information they have put in their online profile.  Your online presence and reputation may be evaluated by potential employers and lenders evaluating your credit application, amongst others.  Although you may set your network privacy settings to limit how much of your personal information may be viewed by others, social networks often change the manner in which their privacy settings function and information previously protected may become publicly viewable.  If information or photos you did not want to become public have become public, it may be impossible to have the offending material taken down from the Internet without legal intervention, as the information and photos may already have been duplicated and posted elsewhere multiple times.

Federal and State Protection

Two important statutes to consider in the realm of social network law are Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  These two statutes relate to a Web site’s potential immunity for copyright infringement committed by a user and immunity of a Web site for defamatory or other comments posted by the site’s users, respectively.  Several states have also enacted or proposed laws that create requirements for social networks, keeping this area of the law subject to consistent change and development.


The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) regulates how Web sites collect and maintain children’s personal information.  COPPA defines a child as an individual under the age of 13 and it applies to sites that know they are collecting information from children and sites directed at children.  This is why social networks targeted towards young adults and teens typically prohibit users under 13.  COPPA requires the Web site limit the personal information that is required to be collected in order to participate in prize competitions or games, provides parents a right to view information submitted by their child upon request, provides parents with notice of the Web site’s information practices (such as to whom information can be disclosed, what information is collected and how it is used), provides procedures to protect the confidentiality, security and integrity of personal information received, provides parents the opportunity to refuse to permit further use, maintenance or future collection of their children’s personal information and to obtain verifiable parental consent to collect, use, or disclose personal information before collecting it from a child.

There are many more requirements to comply with COPPA.  If you are a concerned parent or a Web site operator, it is important you know your rights and responsibilities.  The Federal Trade Commission has prosecuted and fined many companies for violations of COPPA.