Service of Process via Social Media

Claims, Orders and Notices

Service of Process is the formal means by which notices of legal action -- such as the initiation of a lawsuit or the issuance of a subpoena -- are given to people who are subject to the notices.   Service can relate to matters in court, i.e., judicial proceedings, or it can involve extrajudicial matters, such as notice of action by a government agency.

Traditionally, formal service of legal notice is performed by hand.

Sometimes when the person’s location is unknown, alternative service is permitted.  Alternative service can include publishing the notice in the newspaper.  In reality, publication of small notices in the newspaper is not very reliable as a way to put most people on notice of something.

Service Via Email Looks Like Spam

Some courts have allowed service via email.  A problem with email is that spammers commonly send official-looking emails trying to trick the recipient into clicking on something that will infect the recipient’s computer with malware.

Therefore, recipients have reason to ignore emails from unknown senders.

The Advantages of Social Media

Social media like -- Flickr, Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Google+ and many others -- open new potential avenues for alternative service.  The intended recipient might be reachable in many online places.

In Federal US courts, the method used for service of process must be reasonably calculated to notify the recipient of the matter.

Here are factors that can help to establish that service over the Internet was indeed reasonably calculated to put the recipient on notice.

1.  Multiple Attempts.  Make multiple attempts through multiple channels, including Facebook Wall and chat, relies to Twitter tweets, comments under photos and comments under blog posts or status updates.  Social media are opening so many avenues for reaching a person that liberal use of them increases the likelihood of successful delivery.

2.  Video Response.  If the recipient has posted videos on Youtube, send the notice as “Video Response” to one of the videos.  Put the text of the notice directly into the video.  This approach holds two advantages:

(a) It normally causes an email to go from Youtube to the recipient seeking approval of video as a response that would appear under the recipient’s video.  It does not seem like a spam ploy to send malware.

(b) Video Responses are relatively rare on Youtube, so the Video Response is more likely to attract the curiosity and interest of the recipient.

3.  Use Verified Identity.  When posting notices, use a verified identity, such as is available through Google Plus. (As the photo shows, Google shows my name has been verified when the viewer places the cursor on the check next to my name.)


4. Use simple text.  Put as much information as possible in simple text rather than a link.  If the recipient has to click on a link, he may have reason to believe the notice is a hoax trying to trick him into clicking on malware.  If necessary, break the full text of the message into multiple postings.  Start the notice with a plain statement like, “Benjamin Wright: You have been sued in connection with property located in Carson County, Texas.”

5.  Name in subject line.  If using email, put the recipient’s name in the  subject line.  Bulk spammers don’t do that.

6.  Expose the notice to search engines.  Publish the notice on a web page so it comes up in a general search of the person’s name.  People commonly search their own name.

7.  Toll Free Number.  Give the recipient a toll-free number to get more documents or information.  A toll-free number conveys seriousness (less likely a hoax) because the person owning the number pays the toll on calls coming into the number.

8.  Monitor Subsequent Activity.  After service/notice is attempted through a particular social media account, public activity in the account can be monitored.  Commonly people have entwined their lives so tightly with their accounts that they cannot stop using them.  Subsequent activity is evidence that the account is being used. Specific activity (photos, videos, comments, geolocation data) can be so unique to the account holder that it can be established that the account was not being used by an impostor and that it was likely the account holder saw the service/notice.

The expansion and diversity of social media open many new opportunities to be creative.

Social media are opening new frontiers for the collection of evidence and the execution of legal actions in debt collection and asset recovery cases.

P.S. In a couple of cases involving unknown hackers, courts have allowed discovery to start before an attempt to serve process.  The discovery might include subpoenas to ISPs to discover the identity and location of the hackers.

P.S.S. British court authorizes service of legal documents via Facebook. See discussion of whether the Internet is making it easier to start litigation.

P.S.S.S.  A US federal court says no to service of process via Facebook.

See: ideas on how to document details of a person’s web presence

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