Online Misrepresentation

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“I asked my son about what’s happening online that he thinks could get him into trouble. He mentioned misrepresenting yourself online, or saying you’re someone that you aren’t. What are the limitations regarding what you can and can’t say about yourself? If you think it’s not that big of a deal because it’s a free country, think again.

Think about the New Jersey woman who is facing up to 18 years in prison because she misrepresented herself as her boyfriend and posted defamatory things. She got in trouble because she went a little bit too far.

How do you know if it’s too far? You have to look at the law. I’m a lawyer so I’m going to help you–that’s what your Lovable Lawyer is all about!

Generally speaking, you can’t misrepresent yourself with the intent of committing a criminal act or encouraging somebody else to commit a criminal act. If, for instance, you say you have blonde hair when you really have brown hair, you’re misrepresenting your appearance but you aren’t breaking the law or encouraging anyone else to break the law.

A common problem is when someone misrepresents their profession. For example, they could say they are a doctor or a lawyer when they aren’t.

What about claiming you are someone you aren’t? In many states, it’s illegal to incredibly impersonate someone else with the intent to harm, intimidate, defraud, or threaten somebody. If you say you’re somebody else and everyone knows you aren’t because it’s not a great impression, that wouldn’t be a problem. But, doing it effectively, or incredibly, could be a problem.

Furthermore, claiming you’re a fictitious person by making up a personality is called phishing and it’s usually done in order to trick somebody into doing something. It’s typically part of a relationship—emotional, physical, or often financial.

The examples I’ve given you may seem kind of domestic, like they’d only affect someone down the street or close by. However, if you’re doing this sort of stuff online, your message is getting out to lots of people all over the world. It may affect somebody in another country. If it does, you may be exposing yourself to liability in that country depending on what their laws are. That’s another reason to be extra careful about what you say online.

That’s today’s quick shot of legal wellness from your Lovable Lawyer.”

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