ASSEMBLY JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
ASSEMBLY, No. 3757
STATE OF NEW JERSEY
DATED: FEBRUARY 26, 2009
The Assembly Judiciary Committee reports favorably Assembly Bill No. 3757.
This bill would enact the “Social Networking Safety Act.”
The bill provides for civil penalties against individuals who transmit a sexually offensive communication through a social networking website to or about a person located in New Jersey who is, or who the actor reasonably believes to be: (1) less than 13 years of age; or (2) at least 13 but less than 16 years old and at least four years younger than the actor. Under the bill, this person would be liable to the social networking website operator in a civil action for damages of $1,000, plus reasonable attorney’s fees, for each violation and to the recipient of the communication in a civil action for damages in the amount of $5,000, plus reasonable attorney’s fees, or actual damages, whichever is greater. The bill provides that actual damages would consist of compensatory and punitive damages and costs of suit, including reasonable attorney’s fees. Under the bill compensatory damages may include, but are not limited to, damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, emotional trauma, diminished childhood, diminished enjoyment of life, costs of counseling, and lost wages.
The bill defines “sexually offensive communication” as any communication which a reasonable person would believe is intended to solicit or request a person to engage in sexual activity, and any communication which transmits obscene material as defined in N.J.S.2C:34-3.
This bill also prohibits the transmission of abusive communication through a social networking website to or about a person located in New Jersey who is, or who the actor reasonably believes to be, less than 18 years of age. This bill defines “abusive communication” as any communication which a reasonable person would believe is intended to threaten, intimidate or harass another person.
The bill makes it an unlawful practice and a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A.56:8-1, for a social networking website operator to fail to revoke, in the most expedient time possible without unreasonable delay, the website access of any user or third party upon receipt of information that provides a reasonable basis to conclude that the user or third party has transmitted sexually offensive or abusive communications. The bill defines “user” as a person located in this State who establishes on a social networking website an online profile, page or similar account on which the user may post personal information, and which may be viewed by third parties.
A social networking website operator would not be deemed to be in violation if the operator maintains a reporting mechanism available to the user that meets the following requirements:
(1) the social networking website displays, in a conspicuous location, a readily identifiable icon or link that enables a user or third party to report to the social networking website operator a sexually offensive or abusive communication transmitted through the social networking website;
(2) the operator conducts a review, in the most expedient time possible without unreasonable delay, of any report by a user or third party, including investigation and referral to law enforcement if appropriate, and provides users and third parties with the opportunity to determine the status of the operator’s review or investigation of any such report; and
(3) the mechanism provides the means to enable a user to block communications from third parties whom users allege have transmitted a sexually offensive or abusive communication.
Under the bill, a social networking website operator that does not maintain a reporting mechanism meeting the requirements set forth in the bill must include on its website, in a clear and conspicuous manner, a statement notifying users that the website does not maintain a reporting mechanism that comports with New Jersey state law provisions to protect users against sexually offensive and abusive communications.
In addition, the bill provides that a social networking website operator or any employee or agent thereof who reports information to law enforcement concerning an allegation that a user or third party has transmitted sexually offensive or abusive communication is immune from civil and criminal liability arising from such report, unless the person acts in bad faith or with malicious purpose.
This bill is part of the Attorney General’s initiative concerning Internet safety.