Caleb Segrest (US)

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The Right to Write

How important are online reviews in your shopping experience? Many rely heavily on consumer reviews in order to generate business. But what happens when instead of providing customers the candid information that they deserve, companies try to silence their critics in order to improve their online reputation?

In recent years, companies selling products and services have included non-disparagement clauses (“gag clauses”) in their contracts in hopes of curtailing online criticism. Gag clauses are aimed at discouraging customers from writing honest reviews that criticize the company—and punished customers for their negative reviews in the form of liquidated damages. The problem is … Continue Reading

Monkeying around on social media could land you with a defamation suit

As a wise person once said, truth often is stranger than fiction. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth District of Texas (the “Appellate Court”) recently decided Hosseini v. Hansen, a bizarre case involving the intertwining of a tax preparation business, primate trainers and enthusiasts, and a defamation claim. Despite the unique factual circumstances, the case provided good general insight into social media use as it relates to defamation.… Continue Reading

Banning critics from social media can constitute a First Amendment violation

The question of whether a public official may legally suppress dissent or criticism by banning dissenters from social media pages administered by the public official has recently entered the United States’ legal discourse. The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently answered this question in Davison v. Randall, which was the first decision on the issue made at the federal appellate level. The implications of this decision could prove to be particularly significant, as President Trump is currently appealing a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In President Trump’s case, the district … Continue Reading

SEC vs. Elon Musk: Sometimes securities laws and social media posts don’t mix

When Elon Musk, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Tesla, Inc. (“Tesla”), posted to social media on August 7, 2018, that he was considering taking Tesla private at $420 per share and had secured funding, he caused a ripple in the markets and gained the attention of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). As a result of the statement, the SEC filed a lawsuit against Musk in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for allegedly violating Section 10(b) of the federal Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the … Continue Reading

Internet reviews and the Communications Decency Act of 1996

We have previously written about the U.S. legal landscape regarding consumers’ rights to post negative reviews of products or services on the internet, including some of the implications of the Consumer Review Fairness Act on these rights. The Consumer Review Fairness Act was passed in December of 2016 in response to some businesses’ efforts to prevent customers from giving honest reviews by signing non-disparagement or similar agreements as a condition to receiving a particular product or service.

This post concerns an issue involving the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 (the “CDA”) and its relationship to rights and … Continue Reading

Update: U.S. State Department to collect visa applicants’ social media information

In a previous post, we addressed efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to collect certain information relating to immigrants’ use of social media for record-keeping and tracking purposes. Subsequently, on March 30, 2018, the State Department released a notice of a proposed rule that would require the collection of social media information in connection with an application for a Nonimmigrant Visa through what is called a DS-160. … Continue Reading

Update: social media and the Anti-Terrorism Act

We have previously written about the United States District Court for the Northern District of California’s (the “District Court”) dismissal of the plaintiffs’ complaint in Fields v. Twitter, Inc. We are back to provide an update after the case made its way to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (the “Appellate Court”). The Appellate Court filed an Opinion on January 31, 2018, in which it affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims.… Continue Reading

U.S. Department of Homeland Security to collect immigrants’ social media data

The United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) published, on September 18, 2017, in the Federal Register, a notice that it would begin collecting certain information relating to immigrants’ use of social media as part of the National File Tracking System of Records. Since 1944, so-called Alien Files have been the official record system of immigrants, who have each received an Alien Registration Number. These files have historically contained basic information, such as each immigrant’s name, date of birth, date of entry into the United States, country of birth, parents’ names, and naturalization information, if applicable. The files … Continue Reading

Legal Implications of Emoji Use

Emoticons – the often whimsical hieroglyphics that most so affectionately know as “emojis” – have become ubiquitous in modern digital communication not only by individuals but also by corporations as part of their advertising and marketing campaigns on social media. Emojis have also begun appearing as evidence in court cases.

A short, but fascinating, discussion between several experts in the fields of computer science, hieroglyphics, and social media of the impact emojis have had on our language can be found here. The crux of the discussion is that emojis can have a profound impact on the way we communicate. … Continue Reading

Use of Twitter to Broadcast Courtroom Proceedings

In 2017, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications (the “Commission”) issued an advisory opinion that the conveyance of information via microblogging platforms, such as Twitter, does not constitute prohibited “broadcasting” under Rule 2.17 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Under Rule 2.17, judges are required to prohibit the broadcasting of courtroom proceedings to the public except under a narrow set of circumstances. Although this issue may seem geographically limited at first glance, courts and commissions around the country are considering this issue as microblogging activity becomes more prevalent.… Continue Reading

Tort claims may be adapting to a world of social media

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled, on January 18, 2017, on a defendant’s motion to dismiss replevin, conversion, and trespass claims related to the misuse of various domain names and social media accounts.  Salonclick LLC d/b/a Min New York , 16 Civ. 2555 (KMW), 2017 WL 239379 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 18, 2017).

The plaintiff in the case (“Plaintiff”) operated a business that manufactured and sold a variety of grooming products, including hair and skin care products. The Plaintiff used various domain names and tag lines in its business, including www.newyorkheart.org and a corresponding Facebook … Continue Reading

President Obama signs the “Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016”

On Thursday, December 15, 2016, President Obama signed into law H.R. 5111, now officially titled the “Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016.” The substantive provisions of the bill, which we discussed in a previous post, are virtually unchanged, but the law’s text provides further details regarding enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission and the states.

One noteworthy enforcement feature of the law is a cross-reference to the Federal Trade Commission Act. A violation of the Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 by offering a form contract containing a provision described as void in the law is also … Continue Reading

U.S. House takes steps to protect consumers’ rights to post negative reviews

We have all seen the reviews of products or services that disgruntled consumers post on review sites such as Yelp. Lately, however, some consumers have faced lawsuits for violating “gag orders,” or non-disparagement clauses, found in agreements between businesses and consumers. These clauses restrict consumers’ ability to publish any negative criticism about their experiences and are often placed in the fine print of form contracts.  These agreements provide that, when the consumer posts a negative review, or even speaks negatively about the business’s products, services, or conduct, the business would have a cause of action against the consumer for breach … Continue Reading

Did Twitter violate Anti-Terrorism Act by providing ISIS accounts?

On August 10, 2016, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, in Fields v. Twitter, Inc., dismissed the plaintiffs’ complaint against Twitter with leave to amend. The plaintiffs’ complaint arose out of the deaths of Lloyd Fields, Jr. and James Damon Creach, two United States government contractors who were working at a law enforcement training center in Amman, Jordan. Fields and Creach were murdered at the hands of Anwar Abu Zaid, a Jordanian police captain who was inspired to commit the act after watching the ISIS execution of the Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh via … Continue Reading

Discovery Challenges of Social Media

Social media has created several complications with regard to the U.S. discovery process in litigation. Among these complications are issues relating to (i) seeking out and turning over vast amounts of social media information, and (ii) preserving inherently fleeting social media information.… Continue Reading

Crowdfunding: Advertising an offering’s terms on social media

Background

The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) adopted the final rules of Regulation Crowdfunding (the “Regulation”) on October 30, 2015. While the final rules have been adopted, they do not become effective until May 16, 2016. The Regulation is meant to expound upon Sections 4(a)(6) and 4A of the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Act”), both of which provide limited exemptions from registering securities under the Act when a company sells securities by crowdfunding. Crowdfunding occurs when a large group of investors combines resources to support a third party’s efforts to reach a goal. Crowdfunding activities have become more popular … Continue Reading

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