Pokes, Tweets, And Legally Significant Notice

An Australian court rules that a mortgage company can issue notice of a lien over Facebook. A court in the UK permits an injunction to be served via Twitter. A woman is arrested in Tennessee for “poking” someone over Facebook in violation of a protective order. Meanwhile, a 1978 provision of the Bankruptcy Code still provides that notice shall “be published at least once a week for three successive weeks in at least one newspaper of general circulation.” New forms (and norms) of communication are both expanding and contracting the avenues for legally meaningful notice. Just how do we know, in this uncharted new landscape, when notice is enough?

Two aspects are likely to be crucial. First, the communication must be sufficiently engaging to reflect the gravity and context of the relevant legal process. Communications exist on a spectrum of engagement from light and fleeting to sustained and captive. In the context of a protective order, where one person found another sufficiently disturbing to appeal to a court for relief, a “poke” is enough of a communication to constitute a violation. A tweet, however, represents a drop of water in a river of communication. It is far too fleeting to support service of process.

Second, the communication must be directed to the relevant community or communities. The police are on Facebook and MySpace; where's the Miranda warning page so we can all become "fans"? We should also update our laws to reflect the twenty-first century sea change toward new media. Reorganizing a municipality under Chapter 9? Better start thinking about DirectTV and Google Reader.

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