Service of Process Through Social Media

Generally speaking, service of process is the procedure by which a party to a lawsuit provides notice of the start of a legal action to the party being sued so that the court can exercise jurisdiction over that party and the case. Georgia’s Rules of Civil Procedure as well as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure lay out the numerous ways in which process may be served upon a defendant to a lawsuit. There are several traditional manners of service. These include personal service by a process server, substituted service, mail service, or service through publication. With the evolution of technology, this notice requirement has expanded to more innovative means including email, fax, and – most recently – social media.

Service of Process Through Social Media Works

When defendants flee to a foreign country or make it difficult to be located, on point of contact likely stays available – social media. Our global society is a connected one, with more than 2.2 billion active Facebook users, 1 billion active Instagram users, and more than 330 million active Twitter users in the world. Accordingly, while physically finding someone may prove to be difficult, especially if the person is located in a foreign country, at the very least, social media provides a medium by which a person may be contacted.

In the past, courts across the country have allowed litigants to serve process on parties to a lawsuit via email. Accordingly, it is not surprising that litigants are also looking to use a defendant’s social media account to serve process after traditional methods of service of process have proven either ineffective or impossible. In 2015, a New York court noted that the “next frontier” in the area of service of process was the use of social media to deliver a summons to a party to a lawsuit. In New Jersey, a trial court allowed a defendant to be served with process via his Facebook account. A San Francisco court approved service on a Kuwait national via Twitter.

That being said, some courts across the country have denied applications to effect service of process through a defendant’s social media account when a plaintiff has failed to show a basis for the need of alternative means of service stipulated in the applicable rules of procedure.

Establishing Alternative Means are Necessary

As can be seen by the examples above, it seems that under the right circumstances, requests to use a defendant’s social media account as an alternative means of effectuating service of process will be granted by a U.S. court. The different decisions by U.S. courts, however, suggest that the plaintiff must meet his or her burden to show that traditional methods of service were impossible or ineffective and the alternate means will effectively put the defendant on notice. Accordingly, plaintiff’s counsel must give serious consideration and time to researching the defendant’s social media presence during pre-suit investigation of facts. This information will be critical if the defendant later tries to avoid service when more traditional methods are used.