In the age of social media, the question of online friendship has made it up to the state’s highest courts to decide.
In a ruling Thursday, Nov. 15, the Florida Supreme Court says that having Facebook “friends” is not the same thing as having friends in real life.
The issue came up when a Miami law firm complained that a judge presiding over one of the firm’s cases should be removed from the case because of a conflict of interest – the judge and an opposing attorney were listed as “friends” on Facebook.
It was enough for the Miami firm to believe it would not receive a fair trial.
The case went before the Florida Supreme Court to decide and begs the question: What does social media friendship even mean?
“In the traditional sense, a ‘friend’ is a person attached to another person by feelings of affection or esteem,” the Florida Supreme Court writes.
The high court holds that social media friendship does not automatically evoke the same kind of attachment as a regular friendship.
“Today it is commonly understood that Facebook ‘friendship’ exists on an even broader spectrum than traditional ‘friendship,’” the Florida high court writes.
Facebook “friends” might be close family members or complete strangers, and judges and lawyers can be friends in real life. The Facebook “friendship” is not enough to remove the judge from the case, the state Supreme Court writes.
In the dissenting opinion, Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis – all of whom are retiring from the bench in January – write that judges should not be on social media at all to avoid even the appearance of bias.
“While Facebook and other social media sites have become more sophisticated, recent history has shown that a judge’s involvement with social media is fraught with risk that could undermine confidence in the judge’s ability to be a neutral arbiter,” the dissenting opinion reads.
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