Tag Archives: Social Media

So You Want To See A Social Media Law Final? (2018 Edition)

Another year of my Law & Social Media class at the University of Texas School of Law is in the books.  The grades have been entered and now I can share with you all this year’s final exam.  Let me know your thoughts/answers in the comments!


It’s your first day on the job at Maramountal Bros. studio, makers of every movie you’ve ever seen and quite a few you haven’t. You’ve been lucky enough to join their newly formed Social Media Division, and while they plan on eventually extending the department to more people, for now the entire staff consists of you and a laptop. And the laptop doesn’t have a law degree.

The Head of Marketing bursts into your office like his hair is on fire. Which is impressive, since he’s bald.

“We’ve got a situation!” he yells with an exclamation point. He goes on to describe how the latest movie in their massive hit franchise is about to be released. The series of movies is based on superheroes who drive around the world in exotic cars and fight crime or each other. While the cars are typically turbo charged by NOS (nitrous oxIde), in this latest film a new Totally Hyper Active NOS (or THANOS) has been developed. It’s incredibly powerful but has a good chance of killing people so it must be stopped.

Your head of marketing is upset because some people at advance screenings are starting to post spoilers on social media. The studio is concerned that if these spoilers continue to spread then nobody will see the movie.

“I mean, I want it to be a surprise when [REDACTED] dies or when [BELOVED REDACTED] bites it,” he mutters, while actually saying the word redacted as he speaks.

The majority of these posts are appearing on the hot social media platform, MADE-UP. The platform was created a year ago and continues to serve the needs of fictional social media users and social media law professors everywhere. And, your head of marketing points out, it’s a platform where you spend several million dollars a year on advertising.

MADE-UP’s terms and conditions do say that “Content may be removed at the sole discretion of MADE-UP for failing to contribute to our community.” But so far, MADE-UP has refused to remove any of the posts Maramountal Bros. has flagged.

The head of marketing would like you to compose an email to the MADE-UP General Counsel to try and convince them to remove the posts. And since time is of the essence, he wants you to anticipate their responses so you won’t have a lot of back and forth. But he’s willing to give you an hour to write it. So hop to it.


No sooner do you hit Send on the email to MADE-UP when your head of Human Relations comes storming into your office. Which is impressive because there’s actually a storm cloud floating around her head.

“You’re the Social Media lawyer, right?” she says as lightning strikes her chin. You nod, a bit afraid to speak. “Yeah, so it turns out some of those spoiler leaks for the new movie, Endless Skirmishes—you know, the one about THANOS—came from our employees. Our own employees! It makes me so mad!” A small tornado emerges from her left nostril and violently recedes.

“It turns out we don’t even have a social media policy! How is that even possible?” she screams as a hailstone falls out of her ear. “Listen, I know one hour is way too short for you to draft a social media policy for our whole company, but I have a meeting with some important people in 60 minutes. Really important people whose names and positions I can’t think of right now. But I’m going to need to tell them about what we’re going to do for a social media policy.

“Can you give me some highlights of what we can and can’t do for our employee’s social media policy?” she asks while a rainbow bursts from her eyebrow. “And please make it easy to understand—I’m not a lawyer and none of the actual, real-life people I’m meeting with that I didn’t just make up are lawyers either.”

You sit back, open the umbrella you conveniently packed in your laptop bag, and turn back to your laptop. Compose something easy for non-lawyers to understand about what your social media policy for employees should and shouldn’t have in it.


You’ve just handed off your material to the head of Human Relations when the Vice-President in Charge of Movie Development and Overly Long Job Titles sits down at your desk. Which is impressive, because there isn’t a chair on the other side of your desk.

“Social Media and movies, who would think those go together, am I right?” he says while you wonder how he hasn’t fallen down. You nod, afraid to upset his balance.

“So listen, turns out we just acquired the rights to two old movies: Chef and Catfish. My people tell me those movies have some good social media lessons in them—as if people would actually watch movies for social media lessons! I want to combine the two movies and call it Cheffish and I want to make it super educational about social media. You know, really tell people about the risks they or their company may face on social media.

“I’m going around to all the departments and asking them what kinds of lessons I should include in the new movie. I’m definitely interested in what you learned from the movies—wait, you watched the movies, right?” You nod, because of course you watched the movies. It was listed on the job requirements the whole semester…um, job interview process.

“Would you mind telling me what kinds of lessons I should put in the new movie? Feel free to reference the old movies, or make up whatever you want. This is the movie business, after all.”

He stands up, making you wonder again how he was sitting, and casually strolls out of your office. Just as he passes the door he yells back “Anytime in the next hour will be fine!”

Grinning wildly because you totally watched both those movies, you write out your proposed lessons for the new film.


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Filed under Celebrities, Commercial Activity, Consumer Protection, CopyFUD, Copyright, Crowdfunding, Email, Employment, Facebook, Fair Use, First Amendment, FTC Endorsement Guidelines, Identity, Informal Tone, Instagram, Laws, Social Content, Social Marketing, Social Media and the Law, Social Media Policies, Social Media Risks, Social Platforms, Social Tracking, Technology, Terms and Conditions, Trademark

4 Ways That Copyright Is Just Trying To Do Its Job And Doesn’t Control You

“Did Comcast just copyright my diaper? Does that mean I just filled it with derivative works?”

Copyright law has its flaws but it doesn’t control your life.  This despite a blog post that’s been making the rounds on social media.  I’m not going to link it because I’m trying to combat the fear-mongering–one more verified kill and I earn my Hysteria Killer badge!–but you may see it out there getting some shares.  I make it a rule that once four of my friends shares one of these blatantly wrong articles I need to blog about it.  Fourth one was shared this morning, so here we go.

First off, if you ever see a blog post saying that something is controlling you, be skeptical.  Especially if it is something you knew existed but didn’t give it a second thought until this tantalizing headline appears across your feed.  “This is trying to control me?” your freedom loving mind will think, “I DO NOT WANT TO BE CONTROLLED!  YOU DON’T KNOW ME ANONYMOUS ISSUE I DID NOT CARE ABOUT FIVE MINUTES AGO!”

Our latest culprit?  Copyright law.  It’s trying to control you and run your life and make you watch Gilmore Girls reruns.  And only that last thing is good.

As a skeptic, the number one thing to look for is the source.  In this case the article is coming just from one book–it’s essentially a book report.  Single source articles trying to present a comprehensive look at an issue should set off a mild alarm.  Single source articles trying to just tell you about that source–that’s fine.  Like a movie review or an interview with someone.  But when it’s trying to tackle something as big as copyright law, you should expect more.  Like, I dunno, two sources.  Or more.

If you have the time to search for the single source’s credentials you are typically going to find they are very different from what the article suggests.  Like in this case where the article suggests that the book’s author is just an innocent copyright researcher who has some thoughts on the issue.  Instead, the author is a proud proponent of killing a part of copyright law and seeks out every opportunity to advance his cause.  He’s about as impartial a jury member as the prosecutor.

So what is copyright law being accused of this time?  Only these four horrible things.

1. Copyright is all about locks.

This is coming from the guy who hates these locks.  Despises them.  Thinks they are worse than the Star Wars prequels.  The truth is far less evil.  Copyright law does care about locks around content, but it isn’t all about them.  Not even the majority of copyright law is about these locks–directly or indirectly.  Copyright law is about authors and trying to figure out a way to reward them for their creative efforts.  Efforts which are easily stolen.  It’s a difficult challenge in today’s age of incredibly simple copying and as we face new ways of consuming and creating content.  Copyright law does need to change, but to say it’s all about the locks is like saying your car is all about the seat belt.

2. Copyright law is privacy law.

This one is bizarre since it’s talking about US law, a country with the least amount of privacy laws in the western (and a good chunk of the rest) world.  The US is extremely corporate-friendly when it comes to privacy, especially when compared to Europe which is very consumer friendly.  In the European Union they have a documented and acknowledged fundamental human right to privacy.  In the United States the same government agency that oversees privacy also regulates those tags on your mattress that can’t be removed under penalty of law.

Suggesting copyright law is privacy law is a strange statement.  Stranger still is the support for this argument–that when Viacom sued Google they wanted to be able to look at private videos to see if they were infringing.  Yes, Viacom made an outrageous argument in an outrageous lawsuit that went on for years and where Viacom lost almost every step of the way.  Eventually they settled for no money, which is as close to saying “Whoops, my bad!” as a giant media conglomerate is going to come these days. Taking one bad argument from a really bad lawsuit and turning it into a scare tactic is pretty cheap.

3. Copyright law weakens security.

The argument here is that you use computers a lot and computers like to patch themselves without telling you and that’s really insecure because you don’t know what they’re doing.  That’s an interesting theory except that but for a handful of people in the world NOBODY KNOWS EVERYTHING YOUR COMPUTER CAN DO.  Seriously, even computer engineers at Microsoft working on Windows will know their own piece but ask them about another section of the operating system and they’ll shrug, admit they don’t know, and blame them for some bug that impacts their world.  That’s how computers have operated for decades yet–if you want to know every moving piece of how the machine works then get yourself an abacus, stop driving your car, and pitch your smartphone into a lake.  Modern technology builds on the work of more people than you’ve ever known–if that new functionality somehow translates to less security then you just have a crazy definition of security.

4. Copyright law is surveillance and censorship law.

Oh holy hell.  Copyright is considered surveillance because…Snowden?  Seriously, that’s as cohesive an argument they can make.  They toss in Edward Snowden’s name and suddenly it’s about surveillance.  Hey, know what?  Edward Snowden loves frozen yogurt.  Loves it.  So frozen yogurt must be about surveillance too.  Delicious, delicious surveillance.

The censorship take is about organizations abusing the process to issue take down threats.  This is a somewhat fair criticism.  The law does provide for organizations to request content to be removed from web sites and the web sites must comply in order to be shielded from really ugly lawsuits.  Some organizations may abuse this process to claim copyright for material that has no copyright protection, they just don’t like it.  Definitely abuse.  Clearly abuse.  Also not allowed under the law, but it may take a company some work to weed out those requests from the legitimate ones.  Copyright law is not about censorship just because someone is abusing it and for a while can get away with it.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

I am not saying copyright law is perfect.  It does need to change for new technologies, a new collaborative economy and creative environment that technology has created, and better limits between the public interest and corporate ownership.  But just as copyright law is not perfect neither is any other law.  It’s something that impacts us every day whether we realize it or not, from reading articles online to sharing links on Facebook to creating funny memes to watching shows on Netflix.  We live in an incredibly rich world of content and copyright is important.

But it doesn’t control your life and anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to sell you something.

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Filed under CopyFUD, Copyright, Laws, Privacy

Eight Social Media Rules For Kids

“Mommy? I need more Candy Crush lives!”

Coming up with rules for kids on social media is hard.  First, coming up with any set of rules for kids is hard as any parent can attest.  But when you’re talking about a complicated subject like social media it can be even trickier.  There are very real risks of kids not realizing what’s appropriate or not on social media or not realizing who can see their content.  There are also scary but not true stories about predators seeking kids on social media or other online boogeymen that even if we rationally don’t believe we also don’t want to be the one parent whose child actually faced the monster.

Even though I work in the social media space I hadn’t given the topic of social media rules for kids much thought until a co-worker (hat tip to Gretchen) asked me about it this week.  My boys are too young for any social media platforms and still young enough that their friends aren’t pressuring them to join.  But I know that will change and it will change faster than I want it too.  And while it may be a simple rule to say “No social media until you’re [AGE]!” I also know that social media is as much a part of young culture as it is adult culture.  Banning something isn’t as effective as teaching them the right way to do it.

But for young kids first experiencing social media it’s a huge topic to cover.  In some ways I compare it to driving a car–it’s a tool that everyone uses and it’s important to learn how to use it properly because bad things can happen if you mess around.  But in other ways this is a bad comparison–when a teenager learns to drive they’ve been sitting in a car as a passenger for many, many years.  Children first going online typically haven’t been a backseat passenger to their parents’ online activities so we have to teach them the rules of a road they’ve never been on.

This topic prompted me to post some initial rules for kids on social media which I invited comments on and then revised.  I share them here because it was a good conversation but let me make a few important call-outs.

  • As with any set of rules for kids, these are completely customizable for your family and your children.  I am not saying this is the right way to do it, this is just one way to start thinking about it.
  • The rules are written a bit strongly but that’s because social media is similar to a car that weighs several tons–use it correctly and you’re good.  One bad accident can have serious consequences.  I’m not trying to scare people, I’ve just worked long enough in the space to know better.  I imagine ambulance drivers and emergency room workers have similar conversations with their kids about driving motorcycles.
  • These are basic rules that I want to apply to all platforms but also to trigger a series of conversations about how to use social media.  That’s the basis of rule five. Nobody should think you can give these rules to a child and then they know what to do–this is the foundation for you to teach them about posting appropriate content, providing appropriate responses, and engaging with people they do or do not know in real life.  This is the start of the conversation, not the end or the totality.

That said, here are the Eight Rules.  If you have additions, please leave me a comment below.

  1. This is not your account, this is my account with your name on it.
  2. I will set the password and you will not change it. If the platform requires you to change it then you will come to me and I will change it for you.
  3. I will be monitoring your account. Don’t post or say anything that you don’t want me to see because I will see it. If you’d like something more private I’m happy to buy you a diary and a pen.
  4. When I say I will be monitoring your account I mean that I will be actively watching your account and so will many other people. All of these people, like me, have your best interest in mind when we stop you from doing unwise things.
  5. I understand you’ll be learning how to use social media and that the learning process is a journey so I will be patient and explain the things you should and shouldn’t do. You, in turn, need to understand that there are risks and concerns you can’t comprehend right now so while some of my advice may seem odd you will still need to follow it.
  6. If you ever have a question about posting something, ask me first. Social media is about conversations but it is also very different from the actual conversations you’ve had with family and friends. It takes time to learn but it’s better to ask first than regret later.
  7. I will warn you once before I remove your access to the account. Unless you do something really awful in which case you won’t get a warning. Trying to circumvent these rules (making another account, deleting accounts, etc.) is automatically awful.
  8. If you think these rules are strict just wait until we talk about driving when you’re 16.

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Filed under Cyberbullying, Kids, Privacy, Social Content, Social Media Risks, Social Platforms

Social Media Law Final (You Know You’re Curious)

Because triumph.

While I enjoy many aspects of being a social media lawyer one of my absolute favorites is teaching a class I developed at the University of Texas School of Law.  This spring I taught the class for a second time to an even larger class and had many entertaining classes and conversations throughout the year.  We even had to deal with actual ice cancellations and fake ice cancellations and held one class virtually over Adobe Connect.  All in all, a fun semester.

Since my class covers a variety of legal subjects impacted by social media, the final also covers a number of different topics.  And just like last year when I posted the first law school exam I gave, below is an embed of this year’s final.  Now you can play along and imagine what you would respond if you had to take this final.  I omitted the first page which was just directions–just know it was open book and students had three hours to take the exam.  Each question was weighed equally.

Oh, and there’s a social media easter egg hidden in the final.  Let me know if you find it.

Update: Jason Ross found the easter egg first, so congrats to him!  Yes, I rickrolled my students, they just didn’t realize it.  Read the first letter of each line of the final.


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Filed under Celebrities, Consumer Protection, CopyFUD, Copyright, Employment, Fair Use, FTC Endorsement Guidelines, Identity, Instagram, Privacy, Social Content, Social Marketing, Social Media and the Law, Social Media Lawyers, Social Media Policies, Social Media Risks, Social Platforms, Terms and Conditions

Forget The Internet Of Things, We Should Be Creating The Social Media Of Things

It’s like a big cloud of connectiveness. But, you know, connected. And cloudy.

Technology journalists love to cover the Internet of Things.  In case you’ve avoided this particular topic in the past, the Internet of Things discusses how everyday objects will eventually be connected to the Internet, from your car to your toaster, and the wealth of information awesomeness that will result.  It even has a super cool acronym, the IoT, which is really annoying to type.  And it has a lot of super sexy statistics, such as the ones from yesterday’s Business Insider article “Here’s Why ‘The Internet Of Things’ Will Be Huge, And Drive Tremendous Value For People And Businesses” (and you thought this blog title was long):

  • $100 billion in revenue by 2020 for toll-taking and congestion penalties as your car lets you pay these fees without slowing down to deal with a person.  (Yay?)
  • A residential waste system in Cincinnati that implements “pay as you throw” using smart trash cans (although, how smart can they be if they’re working as a trash can?) that reduced overall waste by 17% and increased recycling by 49%.
  • Smart electricity grids and meters that can save anywhere from $200 to $500 billion per year by 2025 by adjusting electricity rates.

And so on.

Yes, there is a lot of cool things we can do by broadcasting information from things in our homes and businesses to larger collection points.  But to me, the thinking behind the Internet of Things is very similar to the thinking of the early days of the Internet and the Web.  We are celebrating the notion of connected devices (1.9 billion today, 9 billion by 2018) just like we used to note the number of people who started getting Internet access in the 90s.  Yes, that was a notable explosion, but after a time we realized that the value of having a new medium to get content broadcast at us was far less interesting than using technology for a greater benefit–enabling conversations via social media that magnified the impact of that content.

This idea started spinning in my head and connected with an experience I’ve had over the past few months becoming a Waze user.  If you aren’t familiar with Waze it is a GPS navigation tool that also provides real-time traffic and road hazard information.  That information, along with up-to-date maps, is powered by fellow Waze users who report traffic jams and stopped cars and even police speed traps.  (And yes, you can use the app to alert other drivers without using your hands–safety first, people!)  Google bought Waze for $1.1B back in June, so expect to see more of it in Google products down the road.

What struck me about using Waze was what makes social media so powerful in my view.  Social media takes a solitary activity and turns it into a community activity.  Web browsing becomes sharing.  Photos become conversations.  And with Waze, even driving by yourself or getting stuck in traffic becomes social.  It was interesting to think that now while I’m stuck in traffic I’m actually a part of a community stuck in traffic and letting each other know (along with potential alternate routes).  When I see a minor accident I can alert my community to avoid that road for a while or they can tell me if a traffic light is out on one of the main exits from my neighborhood.  Using Waze showed me that there is still a wide ocean of opportunity for social communities to be built up around previously solitary experiences.

That’s where the Internet of Things comes into the picture.  How many times have we purchased an item, brought it home, set it up, and then wondered “Now what?”  Maybe we read the instruction manual (probably just me).  Maybe there’s a particular use we had for the product and we do that before wondering what next.  Maybe we just enjoy having the item, knowing it has potential but never taking advantage of it.

To me, that’s an opportunity.  What if, instead of us implementing the Internet of Things, we implemented the Social Media of Things?  When you set up that thing in your home you are instantly connected with a community of fellow users of that thing (or family of things).  They can point out what they’re doing with it, some other items that may go well with it, recipes, techniques, programs you should download, hazards to avoid.  It could convert that solitary activity (I now have this thing) into a community invitation (I am now part of a group that uses this thing).

Perhaps that’s where the technology is heading anyway.  But I, for one, would rather we learn from how information technology has evolved and apply that to other spaces by leaping ahead rather than force those industries through the same process of evolution.

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Filed under Social Content, Social Platforms

Is Social Media Ever A Dilemma?

To the right, bacon. To the left, bacon. Which way do you go?

The story of an Indiana high school teacher who had his threatening message outed on social media and was forced to resign caught my eye this morning.  One significant reason was the headline of the story: “Social media a new dilemma for law enforcers.”  Dilemma?  That seemed an odd choice of words.  It made me wonder if social media truly was a dilemma or if this was just a link bait headline.

In this particular case the teacher was upset over the way his class had treated a substitute teacher.  Upon his return, the teacher wrote on the blackboard:

A. You are idiots!!!

B. The guns are loaded!!!

C. Care to try me???

The message was captured by a student and posted to Facebook and the teacher was placed on administrative leave before he retired.  The blackboard incident apparently came after some other Facebook comments posted by the teacher prior to his return to class.  There was a media storm and the teacher was gone.  Sounds like the right result.

So why is this a dilemma?

Merriam-Webster defines dilemma as one of three things: an argument with two equal sides, an unpleasant choice, or a difficult or persistent problem.  The quotes from law enforcement in the article suggest that social media has raised a number of concerns to the point where they needed to be addressed by law enforcement.  That doesn’t seem to fall under any definition of dilemma.

Social media, for the most part, allows information to be shared on a wider basis.  To the point that this has caused incidents that may have gone unnoticed or unaddressed to be dealt with thanks to social media, that’s a good thing.  Steubenville is a powerful example of social media forcing wrongs to be handled.  I suppose the flip side could also be true–an outcry on social media compelling law enforcement to take an action they otherwise don’t want to take.  But to the extent law enforcement has a decision made difficult because of public outcry there’s probably some other things going wrong.

In the wake of this school incident the Indiana legislature has expanded crimes of intimidation to include social media postings.  While it seems to me that the original law shouldn’t have been limited in such a way as to need expanding to include social media (did it actually list where the intimidation could occur as opposed to it simply occurring?), that’s a needed expansion if they wrote it so narrowly in the first place.  Social media is a channel for information to be exchanged–good and bad.  Having access to that information shouldn’t create a dilemma if the information is true and the decision makers know what to do with it.

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Social Content, Social Platforms

Social Media Is Jimmy Olsen, Not Superman

Social media is a lot like Jimmy Olsen. Except we don’t have a signal watch.

Last week showed how social media can be incredibly powerful on the one hand and incredibly damaging on the other.  In the wake of the marathon bombings in Boston, social media communities rose up to offer assistance.  Some of it was valuable and helpful, like Google’s Person Finder tool which helped people in the Boston area find each other in the hectic aftermath, or the online document which connected people in need of places to stay with generous locals willing to house stranded runners or visitors.  Some of that offered assistance was less than helpful.

Two communities (which I’m not going to name but they’re easy to find) took it upon themselves to try and find the bomber(s) by combing through photos and videos taken near the scene and identify suspects.  While the sentiment behind the effort appears well intentioned, the results were anything but.  The groups focused their efforts on a number of people, inferring malicious motives to the way they carried bags or their proximity to some of the bombing locations or the fact that a single frame showed the person not intensely studying the runners still on the marathon course.  But what certainly stood out was one word.


For example:


The communities focused on a number of criteria: carrying bags, distracted, alone, pictures showing they did not have bags later, etc.  But one criteria that popped up numerous times was whether the individual had dark skin.  A factor that was ultimately wrong and ended up saying much more about the reviewing community than it did the actual suspects.  That thinking wasn’t alone on internet forums though.  Even the New York Post jumped in on the potentially racist, certainly irresponsible accusations as Deadspin called them out for falsely accusing a high school runner of being sought by authorities.  The real story was that the student saw his picture circulating online so he turned himself in to avoid anything bad happening.  One of the communities that contributed to this false identification later apologized for their part, but we should be thankful the harm was contained.

It turns out that social media may be good at reporting some facts, uploading photos, and providing video, but it’s really, really bad at forensic analysis.  One could easily say dangerously bad given the heightened emotions around this situation.

But the strength of providing information is certainly a good thing for social media, it’s just a question of what we do with it afterwards.  That’s what makes social media Jimmy Olsen rather than even Lois Lane–we can take pictures but collectively we might not be very good at analyzing or even accurately reporting on the information.  And we certainly can’t act on them (thank goodness).

Social media is still a valuable resource in the pursuit of justice.  Take, for example, the 2011 Vancouver riots where concerned citizens provided authorities with thousands of hours of video and over a million photos taken during the riots.  Analyzing video tape and pictures after a riot wasn’t a new experience, not even to Vancouver in 2011–after their 1994 riots they analyzed a bit over 100 hours of video footage but that took authorities four months.  In 2011, with the help of the Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Video Association (LEVA), authorities were able to analyze over 5,000 hours of footage and over a million photos in two weeks.  Authorities were able to tag 15,000 criminal acts which led to just over 300 convictions.  A fraction of the identified actions, but still a huge improvement over the time taken to analyze the resources in 1994 (which led to only around 100 convictions).

Social media’s application in criminal justice will only grow over time.  The value now in contributing photos and other information is incredible–but we must be very careful as the crowd starts to get involved beyond the purely objective.  It turns out there’s a reason why we have experts doing analytical work.

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Laws, Social Content