Miami case raises the question: Are Facebook friends really friends?

A court case may give you pause before you give a thumbs up to a friend request.

ST. PETERSBURG, FL -- Are your Facebook "friends" really your friends?

Believe it or not, that question is at the center of a legal case that could make its way all the way up to the Supreme Court.

It started with a judge in Miami, but the issue at the heart of it all could eventually affect the way all of us decide who we give the thumbs up to on social media.

We asked people on Facebook: How many of your Facebook friends are really your friends?

“I would say about 2 or 3%,” said Carrie Freithe.

“Probably 50 percent,” said Anne Engelbrecht.

And then we asked how many are friends Facebook suggested they make based on people and other stuff they already liked?

“I can show you right now, I can show you six people that I've never even hang out with,” said Dylan Sowder.

“Even if it's a friend of a friend, they might've accepted them not knowing them, you know, and then it looks like you're mutual friends, but you're not really,” said Stephanie Coffie, who claims she knows every last one of her Facebook friends.

The whole digital dilemma took center stage recently when a judge in Miami declined to recuse herself from a case being heard in her courtroom, even though one of the attorneys involved was also a Facebook "friend". 

“Is that a breach of objectivity to the end you're the case where they are involved? Maybe,” said Louis Virelli, an ethics professor at Stetson law School in Gulfport.

Virelli, who has written a book on Supreme Court recusals, said you’d be hard-pressed to find any judge who didn’t know a lot of lawyers on Facebook.

So as far as recusing themselves?

“That could result in a system where it becomes too hard to even find a judge,” he said.

Previously, an appeals court told the judge in Miami she should step aside. But on Wednesday another court, digging into the social media aspect, said she didn't have to.

Now, the digital dilemma of what a Facebook friend is could make its way to the Florida, or perhaps even the U.S. Supreme Court. The ramifications of those decisions could also then go well beyond judges, lawyers and public officials who are generally held to higher standards. 

“I think face-to-face contact of who you are really friends with. Not people you talk to you on the internet,” said Facebook user Carrie Freithe.

And what if potential employers, admissions officers and others judged us all by our so-called "friends?" Including the ones we don’t really know?

“Yeah, guilty by association. Definitely,” said Coffie.

Virelli thinks ultimately friending won't automatically mean friendship, and that people will have to do a little digging - as they always have - to gauge the true extent of a social media connection.

“We do ask very specific questions,” said Virelli, “What are the facts of your relationship?”

In the meantime, it might make you reconsider how much you really know about the people you follow, friend or like. 

 

“I think you just have to be more careful because that kind of situation happens,” said Engelbrecht, “Right, wrong or indifferent.”

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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