SOCIAL MEDIA: What You Say Can Be Used Against You in a Court of Law
Facebook. Instagram. Google+. Twitter. According to the Richmond Journal of Law & Technology, 52% of Americans now have at least one social media profile. Social Media has become a large part of our everyday lives – we use it to keep in touch, tell a joke, and share the details of our lives.
Most internet users are savvy enough to realize that some information doesn’t belong on social media: when they’re away from home on vacation or details that would make identity theft easy. However, what many do not realize is that their casual comments can be used against them in Court. How you conduct yourself on social media can often hurt you in a legal proceeding. Whether you find yourself in a family court proceeding, criminal investigation, or civil suit, it is important to realize that information that you have posted online will be used by your adversary.
It’s not hard to find examples of where people involved in legal proceedings have recklessly posted personal details on social media:
A man was arrested after he posted a photo of himself siphoning gas from a police car on Facebook
A woman denied in court that she smoked marijuana, but she posted partying, marijuana-smoking photographs of herself on Facebook.
A man who joined Match.com and declared he was single and childless, while he was seeking primary custody of his children.
A man denied that he had any anger management issues but he still posted on Facebook: "If you have the balls to get in my face, I'll kick your ass into submission."
A woman who filed a claim against an insurance company stating that she had a suffered from a severe back and neck injury posted a status update and photos of her hike and ski trip.
When deciding what to post on your social network account, it is important to remember two things:
1. SOCIAL MEDIA POSTINGS ARE PUBLIC INFORMATION AND ARE NOT PROTECTED COMMUNICATIONS.
The content you post on your social media account is considered public information and is not subject to privacy rules. While some social media sites allow users to control what content the public can access, many users do not make use of these privacy controls.
Even if strict privacy controls are implemented, the content you post is not considered protected communication. If you have said, shared, or posted it with one person (and that person isn’t your attorney), it is admissible in court.
2. YOUR ADVERSARY WILL SEARCH YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA SITES FOR EVIDENCE
Time and again, in criminal cases, a prosecutor will search for the social media postings of a defendant to find that the defendant has confessed to the crime or has provided relevant information on his/her social media account.
The content of your social media site can be requested by your adversary in the form of a subpoena or search warrant. In addition, if you are involved in a criminal investigation, the government may use someone from your friends list as a cooperating witness to gain access to your account, even without a warrant. It is imperative to remember that everything you post is for public consumption and can be used against you.
So what can you do now to ensure that your social media account won’t be used against you in the future?
If you are currently involved in any type of litigation, it is imperative that you not delete or destroy any information on your account. If you have questions about what you can do to protect yourself, ask your attorney.
If you are not currently involved in litigation you may want to:
Adjust Your Privacy Settings. If you aren’t quite sure how to do that, you can search for “adjust social media privacy settings” and find tutorials and videos that describe, in detail, exactly how you can make your social media profile as secure as you want it to be.
Trim Your Friends List and Block People You Don’t Know. Are you someone who blindly accepts friend requests? Do you accept requests from people you don’t really know but seem to be friends with a lot of your friends? Take the time to go through your friends list and delete or block the people you don’t actually know. With regard to the people you do know, consider what advantage you have in keeping them on your friends list. Can’t find one? It may be time to unfriend or block them.
Review Previous Posts and Photos. Has anything you have posted in the past now seem unflattering or a liability? Do you need to untag yourself from photos or posts by friends? Now is the time to clean up your social media image.
Be Mindful of Your Posts. Don’t post or message friends when you are frustrated or angry. Think of how your mother (or a Judge) might view your post. If you think your post may come back to haunt you, it probably will.
If, at some point in the future, you become involved in the legal system, LOG OFF. You should not alter any of your social media, nor should you add to it. Talk with your attorney about any actions concerning your social media accounts while your legal issue is pending.
Social media has become a big part of our everyday lives but it does not have to be a place where we provide too much information about ourselves. Keep your private business to yourself – it may make a difference when it matters most.