Woman Sues Facebook After Being Banned From Site

Would you drive all the way from Maryland to California to try to get your Facebook account reinstated? That’s what Karen Beth Young did but apparently this wasn’t enough to impress the Facebook receptionist on duty. “Oh, people have driven farther than you, from Canada,” she was reportedly told, according to this Forbes story.

It’s nothing new for people to get banned on Facebook for various reasons, including if the site deems that you are harassing or spamming other members. But Young is taking it one step further – after her direct appeal to Facebook failed, she has now turned to the court system.

Young has filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of California – you can see details of her August complaint here. She is alleging breach of contract, violation of her constitutional rights, and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act – Young has bipolar disorder.

Facebook’s lawyers at Orrick have filed a motion to dismiss the case. A spokesperson told Forbes the lawsuit was “without merit” and the company would “fight it vigorously”. The spokesperson would not comment on why Young’s account was disabled, citing Facebook’s privacy policies.

It seems likely that Young was banned for the unconventional way she used Facebook. The Shepherd University sudent joined Facebook in February 2010 and a few months later, by the time her account was disabled, she had over 4,000 friends. She used the site to help promote her cancer awareness efforts and freely admits that she friended people she did not know in real life but who she thought would be interested in the cancer awareness cause. When her account was disabled, she reached out to Facebook and got this response from “The Facebook Team”:

Your account was disabled because your behavior on the site was identified as harassing or threatening to other people on Facebook. Prohibited behavior includes, but is not limited to:

• Sending friend requests to people you don’t know
• Regularly contacting strangers through unsolicited Inbox messages
• Soliciting others for dating or business purposes

After reviewing your situation, we have determined that your behavior violated Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. You will no longer be able to use Facebook. This decision is final and cannot be appealed.

Young has indicated she doesn’t want to start a new account, since this would be against Facebook’s rules anyway and she wants her old contacts and groups back.

It sounds like it could be an interesting case if it goes to trial. Young does not have a lawyer but tech law professor Eric Goldman told Forbes there had been “a groundswell of ADA litigation against websites and a court could have sympathy for the plaintiff”.

But have we really reached a point where access to Facebook is considered a human right? Isn’t the site entitled to ban people for their behavior, regardless of whether they have a disability? I thought equal treatment was the goal.

On the other hand, Facebook’s policies are opaque and somewhat byzantine – for example, did you know that you can’t export your data?. At the very least, there should be a clear and fair appeals process if someone gets banned. At 500 million members, Facebook is no longer just another website, it’s increasingly essential to a 21st century social life. Perhaps there is a human rights argument after all?