A man was recently sentenced to federal prison for allegedly violating the terms of his probation, including “associating” with an environmental activist from whom he accepted a “Friend request” on Facebook. Rod Coronado, an animal rights and environmental activist, was contacted by Mike Roselle, who co-founded the group Earth First!, and is a former director for Greenpeace U.S.A. Coronado accepted the friend request, and it cost him four months in prison.
On July 14, Probation Officer Rhonda J. Wallock claimed that Coronado, convicted of conspiracy in 2006, violated the conditions of his probation: “In monitoring Mr. Coronado’s Facebook account, this officer found Michael Roselle to be a ‘friend’ of Mr. Coronado. According to FBI intelligence and a criminal history investigation of Michael Roselle, he is a well-known environmental activist who has a history of condoning direct action and violence as a means of protest or demonstration.” Based upon Wallock’s report, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney sentenced Coronado to four months in prison for this violation on Aug. 3.
At issue is the meaning of the term “associating” and “friends.” The social networking site Facebook uses the positive, community-inspiring term “friends” to describe contacts. Of course, just because a “Friend” status is requested (and accepted) does not necessarily mean that the two parties are “friends”—nor even acquaintances. In fact, the average person likely only has a few dozen people they would consider actual friends, while Facebook allows a person contact with hundreds of “friends,” most of whom he or she has never met nor even spoken to.
Do you know who all your Facebook friends are? In today’s wired world of global cybercommunities, communication is easier than ever—even among strangers—and the legal system may need to catch up with our technological advances.