In one of the craziest proclamations I've ever read, the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has banned judges from "friending" lawyers on social-networking sites. The reason? It "reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer 'friends' are in a special position to influence the judge."
Ashby Jones, of the The Wall Street Journal's Legal Blog, raises the obvious point: When he first signed up for Facebook, back in the fall of 2007, "friending" someone was akin to confirming a pre-existing friendship—an act that would justify the Committee's opinion. But since then, he writes, "it's taken on a different meaning. I've friended friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, people who claim to know me, people from my past I barely remember, and people who probably requested my 'friendship' completely by mistake or through some sort of elaborate spam ruse that I'm not smart enough to figure out." In other words, modern-day "friending" rarely connotes actual friendship, especially on more professional social networks, such as LinkedIn and Twitter. (Several Committee members shared this belief, but were overruled.)
Additionally, I'm wondering what kind of "influence" the Committee's trying to prevent. I mean, it's one thing if a lawyer who's appearing before a judge is posting objectionable links—trial-related articles, photos, etc.—on his Facebook wall. But would a judge really be swayed by a lawyer's Facebook status updates? Or Foursquare check-ins? Or Last.fm scrobbles? I doubt it.
And who's going to enforce this opinion, anyway? In banning lawyer-judge interaction on "any social-networking site which requires the member of the site to approve the listing of a 'friend' or contact," the Committee has pretty much included all major Web destinations. If its members have hours of free time, they might be able to "police" Facebook and MySpace. But what if the lawyers and judges go rogue and start a posse on Orkut? Or worse—Stache Passions?
Feel free to leave your thoughts—and objections—below.