MySpace recently played a role in two cases, which is a sign of the growing ubiquity of social networks. The two cases highlight the importance of managing the image you portray via MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, or whatever.
In the first case, my client was a landlord evicting a commercial tenant who ran what was supposed to be a restaurant. That is, the tenant’s lease specifically said that the space was being leased to him as a restaurant. It also required the tenant to operate lawfully and in accordance with all local and state rules, regulations, and ordnances. Leases commonly describe the purposes the property is leased for and require the tenant to comply with the law.
The tenant had a MySpace page promoting his business that we were able to use at trial to show he was operating a bar and that he was not complying with local ordinances and state laws. The over all look of the page and the comments on it demonstrated that a bar was being promoted rather than a restaurant. The numerous pictures showed young people partying and dancing on the bar. There were no pictures of the dining area that we contended was not being used. None of the pictures showed any food being served or consumed. Alcohol was evident in every picture, but not food. Florida state law prohibits smoking in restaurants or in any indoor area except bars that serve little or no food. Several pictures showed people smoking inside. Drinking outside and within parking areas is prohibited, but numerous pictures showed people hanging out in front of the bar drinking. They also showed that tables and chairs had been placed outside for this purpose. Local ordinances prohibit anyone from displaying their “anal cleavage” in an establishment that serves alcohol. This is, of course, designed to prohibit strip clubs. Several pictures showed bikini clad girls dancing on the bar and at least one of them was clearly wearing a thong. Guess what her thong allowed her to display? Just to make it better, she held a beer and a lit cigarette in one hand while she danced. The tenant’s own MySpace page made our case for us.
The second case is my last remaining personal injury case. The week after I tried the eviction case in court I spoke with an insurance adjuster who suggested that I take a look at my client’s “interesting” MySpace page. This particular client had a leg injury. Under “Interests”, she had listed “learning to surf.”
It could have been much worse. Fortunately, none of the pictures showed her dancing on her hurt leg, water skiing, snow skiing, or anything else that would allow the other side to contend that her leg wasn’t really hurt. Perhaps because her leg really was hurt? The adjuster particularly liked the comment about “learning to surf.” I pointed out to the adjuster that she was interested in “learning” not in surfing. Obviously, she didn’t surf and saying you’d like to learn could be a good way to meet cute surfer guys.
The adjuster advised me that he and the other adjusters now commonly “Google” every claimant and look for them on MySpace. Young people in particular often have these pages and they also tend to be very indiscreet about their postings. It has hurt the employment chances of many a young person as well.
Next, I’ll discuss some of the ways social networks could be used against you and how you can use them to enhance and improve your image. I won’t be talking specifically about these cases and will be talking generally.