November 29, 2016
Federal Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco has reportedly approved use of Twitter for service of process involving an international party. Judges have previously approved use of social media platforms Facebook and Linkedin for process service. Judge Beeler’s action now adds Twitter to that list of approved online service mechanisms.
The ruling took place in a case involving a defendant who is a citizen of Kuwait. The case involves claims of financing of terrorist activities. In that case, as a result of difficulty in finding one of the defendants living outside of the United States, the judge authorized use of Twitter for service of process.
The record in the case indicated that the defendant in question had a Twitter account and was, and continued to be, an active Twitter user. The defendant apparently used Twitter actively to raise funds and promote activities and the court noted that the defendant had a large Twitter following. Based on these facts and the decisions by other judges authorizing use of other social media platforms for service of process, Judge Beeler concluded that Rule 4(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits use of service through Twitter.
It appears that there are two key aspects of this case which justify use of Twitter for service of process. The first is the fact that the target of the service is located outside of the United States and is apparently unreachable through traditional service mechanisms. The second critical fact is that the target of the service is an active Twitter user.
Some observers have expressed concern about service of process through Twitter. They note, for instance, that it is possible for an individual to decline receipt of messages sent from others through the system. It is thus possible that an individual could be an active Twitter user yet not effectively receive communications sent by other parties through the platform.
This case illustrates the expanding reach of social media into a diverse set of daily activities. Social media platforms are now so widely and routinely used by people around the world that they are now viewed by courts and other government institutions as a reliable and effective communications method. This growing institutional reliance on social media for communications and information sharing is natural and appropriate given the widespread popularity of social media platforms. Such reliance should, however, always be tempered by recognition of the fact that social media and other forms of online communications do not provide completely effective methods to reach the entire population and they should always be supplemented by other communications methods.