During a recent bout of boredom, we discovered the Wikipedia page for “Service of Process.” After reading through the standard fare for manner of service, we came across this interesting tidbit:
Courts in at least two Canadian provincial jurisdictions have allowed for substituted service via Facebook.
Service via Facebook? Certainly, it can’t be legitimate to write, “You’ve been served,” on someone’s Facebook wall and have that hold up in a court of law. We thought that this must be a case of a wiki author having fun editing a page to poke fun at Canadians, right? Wrong, the Court of Quebec did in fact hold back in 2011 that Facebook messaging was an appropriate method for service of process.
In Boivin v. Scott et al., a Canadian plaintiff for whatever reason encountered difficulty serving a Florida resident. In response, the Quebec court held (via Google Translate, mind you):
The only way for the plaintiff to the defendant to convey the original application is through his Facebook address. Indeed, it is a direct and convenient way to notify the defendant that proceedings are taken against her so she could prepare his defense and to be heard, which meets the main purpose of the service.
The court was certainly correct in that Facebook service would be direct and convenient – at least for the plaintiff. The defendant gets to finally look forward to a Facebook notification that has nothing to do with Farmville. Of course, that only applies if the plaintiff served the correct Facebook profile in the first place.
As technologically savvy as we may be, in our opinion, due process should never take a back seat to convenience. There are reasons why personal service is preferred and that substituted service should only be used as a last resort. The rules are designed to protect defendants, making sure they are properly notified of suits against them.
Service by Facebook, while convenient for the plaintiff, lacks these safeguards.
Facebook service simply has too many questions. Here are a few that come to mind:
- Just because a Facebook profile looks to be that of the defendant, who can guarantee it is? Facebook contains millions of accounts, many real and many fake. Serving the Facebook account of “John Doe of Greenville, SC” does not assure that the correct John Doe was actually served.
- Not that plaintiffs would ever be so sinister, but what prevents a plaintiff from making a Facebook profile for the defendant he wants to serve for the purpose of service? If you can make a Facebook page for God, making one for the defendant is not outside the realm of possibility. What safeguards exist to guard against such malfeasance?
- Lastly, even if a person is served to the proper Facebook account, how does one know that the defendant actively uses the account and would find the complaint? Certainly, there are tons of people with Facebook accounts who haven’t accessed them in years. The accounts still show as active even though they have not been officially de-activated. Do we really want to equate Facebook profiles in the same vain as a last known address? Plus, what if the account is active, but the message ends up in the somewhat hidden “Other” mailbox?
With all these questions, service by Facebook is not a process we would feel comfortably advocating. Unfortunately, however, we think that this may be the wave of the future. At least one U.S. court has ordered service of process by Facebook message. We expect many more to come.