This morning in local news, police are investigating a Facebook hack involving criminal threats at Crabapple Middle School in Roswell, GA. The person responsible has not been identified, but hacked into another student’s account and posted threatening messages on a 13 year-old female student’s Facebook wall mentioning several types of weapons, including a gun and knife.

Two weeks ago, a California court ruled that intentionally hacking into someone’s Facebook account, even if you did nothing illegal to get their password, is felony identity theft.

In this case, a juvenile was accidentally sent the password to a stranger’s Facebook page. He then took that password and signed into her page, and “adjusted” her profile with a vulgar description and also posted some similarly offensive items on a few of her friends’ pages using her identity. When he was caught, he confessed.

What could have been a harmless prank in California’s case may turn into a more dangerous issue in cases similar to that in Georgia. According to a California juvenile court he was found guilty of a felony, and sentenced to 90 days to a year in a juvenile offenders program. The case in Georgia has yet to be solved, but I imagine with this sort of precedent, it will not be taken lightly.

The California statue says it’s illegal when anyone “willfully obtains personal identifying information (of the victim and) uses that information for any unlawful purpose, including to obtain, or attempt to obtain, credit, goods, services, real property, or medication information.” The court further said, “(he) used that info for an unlawful purpose when he defamed the girl.”

My gut tells me that the California court was looking to set a precedent to stem the tide of illegal social media account hacking, but the fact of the matter is, this sort of thing is still happening, and we must take all the right steps in protecting our privacy as much as we can in this world of social media. While many of us are on social media pages every day, it pays to remember that security is important, not just for those of us using social media for business purposes, but for our kids and others as well.

Here is a quick list of things you can do to help ensure the security of your social media pages:

  1. Never share your password with anyone. In a business environment, this might be a bit harder, so at a minimum, make sure there are a limited number of people with access to your firm pages. Or even better, have one person “in charge” of all posts, even if they are written by a number of people at your firm.
  2. Connect only to legitimate people and businesses. If someone you’re connected to starts posting things that make you uncomfortable or are just plain offensive, disconnect from them and report them to the social media site as well. Just because someone connects to you doesn’t mean you have to follow them back, and it’s your social media “playground,” so you are in control of who plays in it.
  3. Don’t display too much personal information that will make it easy for people to hack into your account or guess at passwords. And on that note, make sure your password is truly unique. Your pet’s name or street address are not unique enough. Think of something that no one else will know. If you think ‘12345’ is a safe password, think again. This infographic reveals the most common and most dangerous passwords to secure you from computer hacking.
  4. And I doubt this is an issue with legal marketers very often, but if you even sign into your account on a public computer, make sure you sign out when done, never click “remember this password” and clear the cache if you can. I’m amazed at how many stories I read about people who access their Facebook accounts at the library, forget to log off, and are then hacked.

It pays to play by the rules and safeguard your information. So, on that note, what do you think of the California court ruling? Did they overreact to a prank or was it a good move to help prevent future hacking? If you feel they overreacted, what steps should be taken to prevent more dangerous threats such as those posted at a Georgia middle school. Is Facebook hacking truly identity theft and what do you feel is the appropriate punishment? With all my legal marketing readers out there, I imagine there are quite a few opinions on this one.