We’re living in a world dominated by social media platforms. While the law does protect individuals from harassment, not everything that makes you feel uncomfortable constitutes as such an act. One man from Minnesota found that out the hard way.
When Aaron Olson discovered that his uncle had posted photos from his childhood on Facebook, he took personal offense; despite the fact that these photographs simply depicted the young Olson posing in front of a Christmas tree and included a few snarky comments, Olson decided that the only just response would be to sue his uncle, Randall LaBrie, for harassment. Needless to say, a Minnesota district court tossed his case in no time at all. The desperate Olson then turned to the appellate court to continue his fight.
Though the rules regarding appeals vary from state to state (for example, Connecticut appeals must be filed within 20 days after the final judgment or order), Minnesota is timely in its decision-making process. In general, the Court must issue a decision within 90 days of oral arguments; we’re pretty sure they didn’t need nearly that much time with Olson’s case.
Judge Natalie E. Hudson laid waste to his claims of harassment simply by explaining what harassment actually is.
“To constitute harassment, words must have a substantial adverse effect on the safety, security, or privacy of another,” Judge Hudson stated in the opinion. “Comments that are mean and disrespectful, coupled with innocuous family photos, do not affect a person’s safety, security, or privacy — and certainly not substantially so. The district court did not err by determining that the evidence submitted by the appellant did not satisfy the statutory definition of harassment.”
Although this scenario was unique and very silly, it isn’t uncommon for the majority of appeals to be halted: typically, only about 5% of the Court’s decisions are approved by the Minnesota Supreme Court for further review. However, Olson’s case was not helped by the fact that he decided to represent himself pro se (without a lawyer); he claimed that the district court was biased against him because of his socioeconomic status and religion.
The next time you find yourself worked up over a social media post, think about Aaron Olson and just sign off.