We are discussing a case from New York about a restraining order and a Facebook post. Family law matters are handled at the state level, not the federal level, so a case from New York would generally not have any impact in Illinois courts. However, the fact that Facebook is involved makes the case noteworthy. As we said in our last post, courts around the country are still developing the laws of social media, trying to determine just how powerful a tool a post or a tweet can be.
In this case, the parties are a woman and her ex-husband’s sister. The woman had tagged her former sister-in-law in a Facebook post after the sister-in-law had obtained an order for protection against the woman.
The post did not include a direct threat, but it could be considered abusive: She called her sister-in-law stupid and wrote derisively of her ex-husband’s family. Her sister-in-law became aware of the post when she received a Facebook notification that she had been tagged.
That Facebook post, the court said, constituted contact, contact that the protection order barred. The woman argued that she did not realize Facebook was covered by the order, but the court ruled that the post had the same effect as an email, and an email counts as contact. The woman was convicted of second-degree criminal contempt and sentenced to a year in jail. She is not expected to appeal.
The lesson is clear: Even if you are not subject to a protection order, check with your attorney before you post to Facebook or any other social media platform about your ex or your ex’s family. There may be legal consequences beyond any that you imagined.
CNET, “Woman tags sister-in-law on Facebook, faces year in jail,” Chris Matyszczyk, Jan. 15, 2016
New York Law Journal, “Judge: Facebook Post Could Violate Protection Order,” Andrew Denney, Jan. 14, 2016