US Court rules that lying on social media sites is not criminal

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Image: steakpinball/Flickr (Creative Commons)

If you were like many, you would have signed up to Google when you were a ‘minor’, you were until recently breaking the terms of service (and yes, who knew). Well, you are no longer a criminal because a US court has ruled that lying on social media websites isn’t an offence under the law. So, all those profiles with fake ages and birthdays won’t send you to jail.

Well, until it gets overturned in appeal. The Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled:

Basing criminal liability on violations of private computer use polices can transform whole categories of otherwise innocuous behavior into federal crimes simply because a computer is involved. Employees who call family members from their work phones will become criminals if they send an email instead. Employees can sneak in the sports section of the New York Times to read at work, but they’d better not visit ESPN.com. And sudoku enthusiasts should stick to the printed puzzles, because visiting www.dailysudoku.com from their work computers might give them more than enough time to hone their sudoku skills behind bars.

In layman’s terms, the court basically said that if you broke a condition in a social media website’s terms of service, such as some offences noted by the blog The Awl:

That’s not crazy: up until quite recently, the court points out, minors couldn’t even “legally” use any Google product. On Facebook, it would have been “illegal” for any user to give another his password.

… it does not mean you will go to jail – if you live in America – under some federal computer crimes law. It should also be noted that minor lies such as a false birthdate are not worth the time for the US prosecutors, so you’re pretty much safe.

Does that mean you can stop reading the terms of service? Well, no. While it is no longer a reason for a criminal suit, it is for a civil suit since it is a legal contract. So sadly, you should (but realistically you won’t) be reading the terms of service agreements.

Especially your mobile carrier – because it might be handy when you want to leave.

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