Diary

Texas Man Jailed By Feds Over Facebook Ownership Dispute

In a country where we have become accustomed to judicial injustices being committed on an almost daily basis, Americans might be excused for becoming jaded and assuming that we have seen everything. Yet, the courts always seem to find ways to surprise and shock us. Consider, for example the case of a man in Texas thrown in jail by a Federal Judge because of his Facebook Page – and not because he or anyone else is accused of posting something illegal or abusive.

On April 9, 2015, Jeremy Alcede was arrested on contempt charges by Bankruptcy Court Judge Jeff Bohm for refusing to hand over possession of a Facebook Page to the firesale buyer of his former business. On the surface, this seems rather cut-and-dry. A Facebook Page named for a business is an asset of that business. Right?

The problem here is that the page is not named for the business. It is named for Mr. Alcede. It is expressly named “Jeremy Alcede Entrepreneur.” Over the years, Mr. Alcede has posted literally thousands of items of a political nature on the Page yet has only posted about 20 items relating to the business. Now, these circumstances make the issue seem cut-and-dry in the other direction.

Again, there is a hitch. For a short time, Mr. Alcede did use the business name as the name of the Page. However, it was never operated as such and he changed the name to reflect that fact.

So, if the Page is not currently named for the business and has not been used to promote the business to any significant extent, why do the new owners of the business want it so badly? The answer to that is simple. Mr. Alcede has put considerable effort into expanding his readership on that Page, for political commentary purposes. In doing so, he has amassed over 10 thousand followers. These eyeballs are coveted by the new owners. Additionally, there are claims being made by Mr. Alcede about alleged unethical and unsavory acts havingbeen perpetrated by the new owners in order to force him into bankruptcy and claim the business. The new owners seem to be trying to cut off his channel to his followers for publicizing his claims, claims Mr. Alcede. Ironically, in doing so they have garnered nationwide publicity for Mr. Alcede. Assuming the claims being made are not accurate, they would have been better advised to sue for defamation and use the Courts in that way rather than trying to confiscate his Facebook Page. On the other hand, if his claims have merit, they are going to come out one way or another. Either way, this tactic was not one which was likely to gain them the results they seem to desire.

Regardless, the Bankruptcy Judge has ordered Mr. Alcede to turn over the Facebook Page and Twitter account to the new owners. Mr. Alcede has refused and was arrested by US Marshals. He is currently sitting in jail on a contempt charge, a charge which does not require a trial by jury to sustain. Despite Constitutional strictures against denying one liberty without due process, Judges are empowered by law to jail people for “Contempt of Court” more or less on a whim. From a certain point of view, given that Mr. Alcede was using the social media accounts in question for politicla speech, he can be considered a political prisoner of the Federal Government.

Judicially speaking, the difficulty is that the law does not understand how social media works. There are no cut and dry lines between personal and business in venues such as Facebook. Many of us use our personal Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote our businesses. We also post things of a personal, political or other non-business nature to our business social media properties. Further complicating the matter is the fact that we do not actually own our social media accounts. They are free and can be cancelled by the operator of the network at any time. The only “asset” in social media are the aggregate followers of a Page. However, they are not on a permanently available contact list. Their names and contact information are not made available to the operator of a Page. They cannot be quantified and moved, to be re-used for other purposes.

Their sole value lies in them remaining Followers of a Page. If that Page changes the nature of its posts, they will quickly depart and the Page loses its value. In other words, all value in the Page in question is tied to the person of Jeremy Alcede.

This entire incident is a comedy of errors driven by what appears to be greed and hubris on the part of a business owner and complete ignorance regarding the nature of social media on the part of a Federal Bankruptcy Judge who is now choosing – out of judicial pride – to jail a man who is simply fighting for what any reasonable person would conclude rightfully belongs to him.

It is time for Judges – especially Federal Judges – to let go of their arrogance and pride and begin to act like the servants of the American People they are meant to be. The Judicial Branch is every bit as much a part of the Government as the other two Branches and it is just as accountable to the People. The day has come for them to begin acting as if they were truly accountable. The myth of judicial independence as a license to ignore Rights and the Will of the People must be laid to rest.