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The Legal Nuances of Facebook Ghostwriting

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, September 13 2010

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Marcia Hoffman makes the case that if Sarah Palin really does have someone else penning her provocative Facebook posts, she's a violator of Facebook's terms of service and quite possibly a criminal, at least in the eyes of Facebook's recent court filings.

But as juicy as Hoffman's "Is Sarah Palin a Computer Criminal?" headline is, it's worth keeping in mind that Hoffman is gunning for Facebook here, not Palin. (Barack Obama's not writing his own Facebook posts, as Hoffman points out.) The deeper story is that Facebook has argued that the scraping of its site by third-party social networks breaks its terms of service and points to criminal acts of computer fraud. The significance, then, is that Facebook has become an enormous platform, one attractive enough to consume a good chunk of the time of Sarah Palin (or ghostwriters), without a public consensus emerging about what's legally acceptable and unacceptable behavior on the platform. Facebook's left to write the rules of the game.

Palin, in fact, was the victim of one aspect of that ambiguity herself, when she was targeted by some folks on Tumblr who creatively triggered Facebook's black-box auto-deletion mechanism.