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Could lying on your Facebook profile soon be a crime?



Be honest, have you really read and loved the entire works of Dostoevsky in the original Russian? Do you really celebrate the entire catalogue of Woody Allen’s early works? If you’re lying about anything in an online profile, it could soon be a criminal offense if the White House gets its way.

The White House has currently been pushing for the expansion of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The proposed expansion would essentially adopt every website’s terms and conditions as laws and turn the violation of those terms and conditions into a crime. 

While this sounds bizarre, it’s grounded in a very real and very tragic case. Lori Drew, a middle aged woman, created a fake Myspace account to taunt and bully a 13-year-old girl, who as a result committed suicide. Prosecutors couldn’t under current law find charges that would hold so instead they charged her for violating Myspace’s terms of use. That conviction was eventually overturned and Drew went free. 

There are many new and nefarious ways to use the Internet to carry out crimes, just look at the Craigslist Killer. The rapidly evolving uses of the internet make it difficult to criminalize these actions that lead to those horrific consequences. Creating this blanket law is perhaps the easiest and most all-encompassing way to ensure that those guilty of cybercrimes are able to be punished for their crimes.  

While it is sure to be effective, it is also extremely broad and that is always worrisome. Almost everyone who uses the Internet  has probably violated a term and condition at some point in their online life, that leaves a large portion of the population vulnerable to unnecessary prosecution. While it is unlikely that the government would spend the resources prosecuting you for using a profile picture that’s five years old, this law still creates a lot of undefined loopholes. It’s a law with too many questions with not enough answers. 

Let’s be honest, no one actually reads the terms of service. It’s a box you check as quickly as you can find it to get the next page. While legally there is always a duty to read, currently courts have found that most of the terms of service are not as binding as we might think. And unless you’ve expressly admitted to having fully read and understood the terms of service, there’s an argument that can be made that you were not aware of the content of the terms and conditions and are not bound by them. This law would reverse legal precedents and create new, untested ones.

Since nobody ever reads the terms and conditions, does anyone actually know what’s contained within them? 

The answer is a resounding no. Using the terms and conditions as a binding code of behavior is a terrible idea. The individual websites create their own terms of service. There’s nothing to stop them from putting in a term that prohibits Democrats or brunettes or people wearing glasses from use of the site. The individual websites have no accountability for the content of their terms and conditions and how often they can alter the terms. 

And let’s take a moment to be honest with ourselves, who hasn’t perhaps stretched the truth on the Internet? Obviously online dating sites are the main culprit of this trend, for every eHarmony commercial couple, there are thousands of cringe-worthy Internet dating stories stemming from misrepresentations made online. It’s perhaps not as prevalent on Facebook and other social networking sites, but who doesn’t have listed as a favorite book something they had to read in high school and listed it because it sounds impressive? 

Internet-based crimes are horrific and those who commit them should be punished. However, not everyone who lies on the Internet is a criminal or has malevolent intentions. While it is difficult for laws to keep up with the evolving uses of technology, this overly broad law is far more invasive than it needs to be. 

This law turns something a vast majority of us use on a daily basis into a potential minefield of constant law violations. While it is unlikely that this law would be passed and upheld, I’ll be taking War and Peace off of my Facebook favorite books just in case.


Brittany Sharkey is a second year law student from Oceanside, Calif. She graduated from NYU in 2010 with a degree in politics. Follow her on Twitter @brittanysharkey.