By: Jeffrey Lapin
This is Part 1 of a 3 Part Series about the use of social media, sites and services, and debt collection. This Part will discuss Facebook and Twitter, which are two of the most popular social media sites and services. Both provide limited protection to a debtor-user against a debt collector-user by, through their terms and conditions, prohibit harassment or threats. Part 2 will discuss a fairly recent change in the United Kingdom preventing debt collectors from posting debt information or contacting a debtor through a social networking site. Part 3 will discuss current U.S. law.
Social networking sites and services have significantly changed both the speed and reach of information. Online posts can go “viral” and be viewed by millions within seconds. These sites have the potential to be abused and permit “bullying,” abuse and harassment. A person has limited control over what get posted about them. Social networking sites and services are likely the next arena in which debt collectors will use to attempt to collect a debt. Consider a debt collector posting on debtor’s Facebook page that the person is someone who does not pay their debts with a subject line of “Deadbeat?” How will this debtor-user react? What if the debt allegedly owed is not actually the debtor’s? What if the debtor disputes the debt? People should not be forced to wage “war” against a debt collector on or through a social networking site or service; there are laws that protect debtors and if violated, a debtor has the right to sue a debt collector. Debt collectors also have the ability, assuming they have complied with the law, to sue a debtor to collect a debt. No one really disputes a debt collectors right to collect a debt using lawful methods. These methods do not include threats, abusive or harassment.
Facebook, with approximately 800 million active users, is widely considered the most popular social networking sites. (Source: Facebook Statistics). Facebook’s Terms, as of the date of this post, have numerous provisions that should prevent debt collectors from using Facebook to attempt to collect a debt from a debtor-user in a way that would violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibition against using abusive and harassing tactics to collect a debt. All Facebook users are bound by its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Some of these rights and responsibilities include:
This Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (Statement) derives from the Facebook Principles, and governs our relationship with users and others who interact with Facebook. By using or accessing Facebook, you agree to this Statement. . . .
We do our best to keep Facebook safe, but we cannot guarantee it. We need your help to do that, which includes the following commitments:
6. You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.
7. You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.
10. You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory.
5. Protecting Other People’s Rights
We respect other people’s rights, and expect you to do the same.
1. You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.
8. You will not post anyone’s identification documents or sensitive financial information on Facebook.
Facebook’s full Statement of Rights and Responsibilities are available here.
Twitter with reportedly over 100 hundred million active users is another of the most popular social networking sites/ services. Twitter claims that there are approximately 1 billions “tweets” per week. (Sources: Twitter: About; Twitter Blog: #numbers; PcMag.com: Twitter Continues to Soar in Popularity, Site’s Numbers Reveal). Twitter is clear about its reach and scope:
What you say on Twitter may be viewed all around the world instantly. You are what you Tweet!
Some of Twitter’s Terms and Rules are:
You are responsible for your use of the Services, for any Content you post to the Services, and for any consequences thereof.
Impersonation: You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others
Privacy: You may not publish or post other people’s private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, street address or Social Security/National Identity numbers, without their express authorization and permission.
Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.
Unlawful Use: You may not use our service for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities. International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content.
Twitter’s full Terms of Service (http://twitter.com/tos) and The Twitter Rules (http://support.twitter.com/articles/18311-the-twitter-rules)) may be viewed on Twitter’s website.
Limited Protection Under a Social Media Site’s Terms and Conditions
Both Facebook and Twitter do try to protect their users against harassment, abuse and threats. However, this protection is very limited. The most Facebook or Twitter can do is ban a user and remove posts. This is not a very big deterrent and may be too late to protect a debtor from the embarrassment about a debt- related post. In addition, an unscrupulous debt collector could simply open an account under a different name and continue unlawful activity. Facebook and Twitter terms and conditions are, first and foremost, to protect themselves rather than their users. Finally, Facebook and Twitter are private companies, which can change or modify their Terms and rules at any time removing their protections from debt collectors desiring to post or tweet unlawful debt information.
While a social network site or service, such as Facebook and Twitter, may not be able to really protect or punish unlawful debt collection activity, postings on their sites may violate a law, rule and regulation subjecting the debt collector to penalties. Part 2 of this Series, Social Media and Debt Collection: Limited in the United Kingdom, will discuss new prohibitions in the United Kingdom about debt collection activities and social networking sites.
Links to the other Parts of the Series: Social Media and Debt Collection
Other Lapin Law Offices’ Posts Regarding Debt Collection
An Update on H.R. 3035 (The Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011) and a Call to Action
Common Misperceptions About Credit Scores
Credit Scores: Why Are They So Important and How Are They Calculated
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) – Will It Be Better for Consumers or Debt Collectors?
Proposed Act Would Permit Debt Collectors to Use Auto-Dialers to Call Cellular Telephones
ABOUT LAPIN LAW OFFICES
Lapin Law Offices represents consumers harassed or abused by debt collectors. You can learn more about us and about your rights by calling us at 402-421-8033 (24/7) or on our websites: LapinLawOffices.com or StopBadCollectors.com.