Will Your Insurance Protect you from a Facebook Lawsuit?

Mostly everyone knows that the use of social media has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade.  What many people don’t realize are the unique risks that come along with social networking. Anyone using Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or other social networking sites should exercise extreme caution in what they decide to say on-line.

As an example, in 2009 a teenager in New York sued some of her classmates and their parents, accusing the classmates of bullying and humiliating her in a Facebook Forum.   Whether or not the allegations are true, the teenagers and their parents require legal resources to pay for the possible judgments against them.

Many people believe a standard homeowner’s insurance policy will cover them in such a situation.  In fact, it probably will not provide the necessary coverage.  A standard policy covers bodily injury or property damage done to someone else.  It defines bodily injury as sickness, harm or disease, and it defines property damage as destruction of or injury to physical property.  Neither definition includes publishing or saying something that injures another person’s reputation. Hence, the policy is not likely to cover a Facebook post.  In other words, the policy is unlikely to cover the act of making someone else feel miserable due to social networking.

A good source to consider for additional coverage is a personal umbrella policy.  This kind of policy provides additional insurance in circumstances where a loss has depleted the amounts of liability insurance offered under a homeowner’s policy.  Umbrella policies usually have a deductible of $250 to $500; but have the potential to protect the policyholder from financial devastation.  

As Americans become more exposed to risk through social networking, they should choose their words carefully on any social networking site.  Additionally, they should speak with an insurance professional to see if an umbrella policy is a good match for their insurance needs in an increasingly risky world. 

Facebook Scammers Getting Bolder

Other times, careless users have left too much personal information on line, including birthdays, addresses, and other information that can be leveraged into identity theft.

More recently, though, another variation on the scam has come to light: Criminals have been trolling Facebook accounts, looking for members who post a lot of details about their own families. They will then locate and contact a vulnerable family member – often a grandmother – and pretend to be a grandchild travelling abroad.

The scammers pretend to be the grandchild, and breathlessly explain to the unsuspecting senior that they’re in jail in Spain, for example, after hitting a telephone pole – and they need her to wire them money to get let out of jail.

In some cases, the criminals don’t just stop with the first couple of thousand dollars. They will contact grandma again, telling her the judge is making her grandson pay for damages to a light pole he hit. Then a deductible to an insurance company. They will call grandma again, saying the police won’t let him leave the country until he clears accounts and hit grandma for a couple more grand.

They keep it up until grandma catches on to the scam or runs out of money – and meanwhile, her grandson is safe at home, unaware that his Facebook information is being used by criminals to victimize his family.

How they do it

To pull off this scam, criminals don’t need to steal birthdays or password information directly. Instead, they’ll go through Facebook accounts, mapping a picture of the victim’s family. They’ll gather so much information about family details and contacts that they can quickly overcome any skepticism about the scammer’s identity.


Criminals will also scan Facebook for information to use against members more directly: They will look for families announcing vacation plans on Facebook, for example, and then break into the house when you’re away. Police have broken up multiple burglary rings in several states, in which thieves used information gleaned via Facebook to target homes where they knew the occupants would be away.

Awareness Is Still A Factor

According to a recent survey from the Javelin Group, a large number of social media users posted information on line on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Tumblrs, and other social media sites that criminals could possibly leverage against them:

  • 68 percent of social media users publicly shared their birthday.
  • 63 percent shared the name of their high school.
  • 18 percent shared their phone number.
  • 12 percent shared their pet’s name.

All this is information that criminals could use to bluff their way to access to a bank account – or even to a home, especially where family members are very young, elderly, naïve or easily confused. 

How to Avoid Libel on Social Media Sites

When using social media sites, it is easy to get carried away with expressing disgust or irritation. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it is important to avoid libel. The first step in avoiding it is to know the definition. Libel is any type of defamation that takes place on a more permanent source. Some examples include printed publications, blogs, films or any other written documents. Those who write, publish or are involved in similar practices should read about publishing laws. It is important to fully understand what is constituted as libel or slander. Avoiding such trouble online is the best way to also avoid a costly lawsuit. In addition to being expensive, lawsuits also tarnish the reputations of trusted publishing sources. Even bloggers who have a faithful followers may lose them if libel becomes an issue.

One of the best ways to avoid libel is to check facts. Responsible journalism demands this practice. Never rely on commercial sites for accurate information. Wiki sites are also bad sources for information. Anyone can add text to them, so it is easy for inaccurate stories and figures to surface. If a specific piece of literature lists a person or organization as the main source of information, contact the main source for verification. Quotes and testimonials should also be verified before printing. If a libel suit surfaces, it is important to have a list of sources to back the information. If it is impossible to verify a piece of information directly, be sure to clearly cite the source where the words came from.

In addition to avoiding misquoting people, it is important to avoid trade libel. Making disparaging remarks about a product or the company producing it is considered trade libel. After purchasing a defective product, it is easy to vent personal frustration online. In some cases, people simply want to alert others about a bad experience. However, it is best to contact the offending company directly. If the matter cannot be solved, contact the Better Business Bureau to resolve the issue. Never post insulting comments about a company or product online. Many social media profiles are public, and a quick Internet search for a person’s name may show several social media posts. Avoid jokes that may be interpreted as libel.

Overall, the main idea to remember is to test a comment or statement before posting it. Think carefully about the comment. Would it hurt a company’s reputation? Is it personally insulting to a certain individual? If it may be damaging and cannot be verified completely, avoid posting it.