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Tennessee Woman Arrested for Facebook 'Poke'

Publication Date: 
October 12, 2009
ABC News
Ki Mae Heussner

Ryan Calo, a residential fellow at the Center for Internet & Society, is quoted on the legal ramifications of a Facebook "poke" in the case of a Tennessee woman violating a protective order:

It's the digital equivalent of waving at someone from across a crowded room.

And yet a Tennessee woman was arrested last month for "poking" another user on Facebook.

According to an affidavit filed with the Sumner County General Sessions Court on Sept. 25, Shannon D. Jackson of Hendersonville, Tenn., allegedly violated a legal order of protection that had been previously filed against her when she sent a virtual "poke" to another woman on Facebook.


Although "poking" is a somewhat passive and new form of technology-enabled correspondence, Ryan Calo, a residential fellow at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet & Society, said it is still a form of communication restricted by a protective order.

"A poke is a very deliberate action," he said. "You have to select the person and say, 'this is what I want to do.'"

Advances in technology have expanded the spectrum of communication, from low-engagement to high-engagement ways of interacting with others, Calo said.

This case involving Facebook "poking" is an example of how the law must recognize new and different forms of communication, he said. The digital environment can create new pitfalls and new threats, he added.

"Protective orders are not always about physical danger, they're often about getting this person out of your attention and getting away from them," he said.

In recent months, Calo said, there have been similar instances in which a person's virtual actions on social media sites have had legal ramifications.