In what appears to be the first lawsuit related to debt collection activities on a social network, a Michigan woman is suing two debt collection agencies and their principals for violating the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for, among other things, posting information about her indebtedness on her MySpace page. The lawsuit, filed on March 23, 2009, seeks damages in excess of $25,000 together with equitable and declaratory relief.
According to her complaint, Paula Newland fell behind on her payments on a 2005 Chevy Impala in January 2009. Shortly thereafter, she alleges that the defendants began engaging in various harassing and abusive collection activities, including disclosing private information to her family, friends, and neighbors, publishing private information on her MySpace page, and threatening to "camp out" in front of her home "all weekend." The complaint doesn't describe what the defendants allegedly posted on her MySpace page.
The six count complaint alleges violations of the Michigan Collection Practices Act, federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and Michigan Consumer Protection Act, as well as claims for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Intrusion Upon Seclusion, and Disclosure of Embarrassing Private Facts.
According to Wired's Threat Level Blog, which first reported the case:
Under most state laws, debt collectors may not publicize a debt or even tell a debtor's friends, family members or work associates about a debt in order to shame a person into paying. They also must refrain from using abusive or oppressing methods, and generally have to stop calling one's home or work after being asked to communicate in writing.
Not surprisingly, Newland did not sue MySpace, which would clearly have immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.