Are Twitter Direct Messages Legally Binding?

August 30, 2021 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Social Media

In the current age of smart phones, it is easy to assume that most people are participating on social media. With popular platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, it appears that there are endless ways to virtually interact with people both locally and globally. Additional tools have been introduced on these platforms over the years including direct messaging, shopping, and wiring money. These advancements can make it seem like our entire lives can be run through our social media pages. When the use of social media goes past the point of being—well, social—how do we know what is considered legal or not? At what point can social media be upheld in a legal manner?

Let’s say someone inquires about renting a room they saw advertised on Twitter. The owner responds to the direct message and discusses the details. After some time, there is a confirmation on a set price and a date to move in. Does this classify as a legally binding contract? If the person who was originally interested decided to change their mind and go back on the agreement, will they have to go to court to protect themselves, even if it was only through Twitter?

What is a Contract?

A contract is an agreement between two parties or legal entities, where one party has agreed to provide goods or services in exchange for payment by the other party. All parties must agree to perform their duties under the set terms of the contract. 

Legal and Binding Contracts 

In the state of Florida, a contract is not legally binding unless it has specific conditions met. A contract in Florida must include the following to exist: 

  • An Offer Has Been Made

An offer can be written or spoken orally from one individual to another. The offer must express the intention to be bound by the agreed terms. The offeror is the person who is making the offer, while the offeree is the person who has been given the offer. 

  • An Acceptance Has Been Given to the Offer

The recipient of the offer must accept the offer while it is open. If there has been a time period given for the offeree to accept, it must be completed within that time frame. A counteroffer can be made, but only if it is accepted by the offeror and then a new valid contract is made. 

  • There is Consideration and Mutual Understanding

The consideration aspect of a contract is considered the benefit of the agreement. Consideration is a legal concept to describe the value of something that has been exchanged. The consideration also differentiates a gift from an offer. 

  • The Contract is Not Illegal or Impossible

The services or goods agreed upon in the contract cannot be anything that is considered impossible or illegal in that state.

UETA and E-SIGN Acts

The Uniform Electronic Transaction Act (UETA), codified in the Fla. Sta. Section 668.50(7)(b), states that electronic signatures hold the same legal weight as a traditional handwritten signature. A contract cannot be denied legal enforceability solely because an electronic document was used. The signature itself can be represented in a symbol or an electronic sound. The intent shown must be that it is attached to the contract and is executed in a way to represent the signing of the contract. The expression of intent and consent are the two key components for the parties to agree electronically.

In addition, the Federal Electronic Signature in Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN) ensures the legal protection of an electronically signed contract. Under E-SIGN it claims that a contract cannot be denied legal validity just because it was completed electronically. One thing to note is that UETA and E-SIGN do not apply to all types of contracts.

Here is a list of documents that cannot be signed electronically under the UETA and E-SIGN laws:

  • Documents Relating to Divorce, Adoption, and Other Family Related Issues
  • Documents Relating to Real Estate Transfers or Agreements
  • Court Documents Including Court Orders, Notices, Pleadings and Motions
  • Power of Attorney Documents
  • Documents Including Testimony Trusts, Codicils, and Wills

The focus of the UETA is defending the fact that a contract is valid through any electronic medium, not just email communications. So, if text messages or direct messages appear casual but contain the necessary contractual language, the text is considered legally binding.

Twitter’s Terms and Liability

All the popular social media platforms have a terms and conditions page, where they protect themselves from liability. This covers the content shown, as well as how users are utilizing their platform. In Twitter’s lengthy terms and conditions page, its general viewpoint is that they do not wish to accept any liability for any content posted. As stated on Twitter’s Terms of Services page:

  • “You are responsible for your use of the Services and for any Content you provide, including compliance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations. You should only provide Content that you are comfortable sharing with others.

Any use or reliance on any Content or materials posted via the Services or obtained by you through the Services is at your own risk. We do not endorse, support, represent or guarantee the completeness, truthfulness, accuracy, or reliability of any Content or communications posted via the Services or endorse any opinions expressed via the Services.”

In reference to direct messages and non-public communications:

  • “We provide certain features that let you communicate more privately or control who sees your content. When you communicate with others by sending or receiving Direct Messages, we will store and process your communications and information related to them. When you use features like Direct Messages to communicate, remember that recipients have their own copy of your communications on Twitter – even if you delete your copy of those messages from your account – which they may duplicate, store, or re-share.”

To read more about Twitter’s terms and services, click here.

Contract Disputes

Even if a contract has been made following all the standard procedures, it is not uncommon for there to be contract disputes. Whether it is a written or oral contract, people can try to go back on their word. In the less serious of cases, it can lead to arguments and unnecessary time spent going back and forth with the other person in the contract. In more serious cases, it can lead to legal action, and the possibility of going to court. The breaking or “breach” of a contract can result in the suing of one party by the other to enforce the contract. The law requires you to file a lawsuit within five years of the date it was originally written. If it was an oral contract, it must be filed within four years. In some cases, however, filing a lawsuit must be completed within a little as one year after the contract was breached.

Tallahassee Defense Attorney 

Disputes often arise with both written and oral contracts. Things get even trickier with evolving technology, which can add confusion as to whether a contract is valid. If there are issues with a contract—whether completed in a traditional written document, orally, or electronically—time is of the essence. You will not be able to take legal action or sue after the initial deadline. In most cases involving electronic contracts, the court held that if the text itself contains the proper terms of a contract, it constitutes it as a valid and enforceable agreement.

The golden rule? If you do not know what you are signing, do not sign it and get in contact with an attorney. If you or a loved one is confused about electronic contracts, completed on social media platforms or elsewhere—call a Tallahassee criminal defense attorney. Don Pumphrey and the members at Pumphrey Law have years of experience representing individuals across the state of Florida. Call (850) 681-7777 and receive a free consultation regarding your case today.

This article was written by Karissa Key

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