If you have recently become a plaintiff in a personal injury case please print these words out and read them everyday: “ANYTHING you say online can and WILL be used against you.” As the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels continue to grow, so does their usage in court cases... You are one post, share, tweet or like away from destroying your case.
The simplest answer is to stop all forms of social media interactions entirely... But we know that’s not always possible, and you may not be able to unplug from social media without losing touch with friends and loved ones. There are many things you can do to better protect yourself during a trial, and it starts with learning how lawyers use social media in court cases...
5 Ways Lawyers Use Social Media in Court Cases
Social media is everywhere. It has become an important source of information in custody battles, personal injury cases, and even in job interviews. The truth is, it’s many times the first place an employer or lawyer looks for information. To better understand how social media can work against you, take a look at a few of the ways lawyers use social media in the courtroom:
- Social media profiles - As soon as lawyers are aware of the court case and parties involved, they can start researching an individual’s Facebook profile, MySpace account, and their other social media involvement. As far as Facebook is concerned, lawyers can only view your information if they’re a friend of yours – unless your privacy settings allow a broader audience.
- Screen name – Lawyers can also request information that will help them identify your online screen names for chat rooms, discussion forums, messenger programs, and more.
- Blog entries – Any public blog posts are also searchable – and can be used as evidence.
- Computer access – Normally, a court order or subpoena is required to access your personal computer. However, if the police have a probable cause, they can search your computer without either of these.
- Consent forms & subpoenas – Some defense lawyers have begun asking the plaintiff to sign a consent form. They’ll add the consent form to a subpoena and send it to sites like Facebook and MySpace, requesting private information. However, the Federal Stored Communications Act generally governs posts on social networks – meaning sites aren’t always required to fork over personal information when subpoenaed.
9 best practices for social media during a trial
So, now that you know what information can be found, it is time to take steps to better protect yourself from investigation. In today’s society, it seems everyone is saying and doing the same things they always have – but now, it’s expressed on blogs, social media sites, and personal websites. Recently, Facebook has been the target of many court cases - lawyers want to retrieve all types of personal information from a user’s profile, photographs, and status updates.
Facebook’s Terms of Service explicitly state, “the website is available for your personal, noncommercial use only.” However, this doesn’t mean police, potential employers, and college administrators can’t use it for research and investigations. In fact, Facebook spokespeople have made this known in public forums and discussion areas – all information on the site should be presumed available to the general public.
So, what steps can you take to protect your social media presence during a trial?
- Shut down your blog
- Suspend your Facebook and Twitter accounts – Although this is the easiest way to help prevent information for being used against you, some may not feel comfortable getting rid of it completely.
- -check your preferences – Facebook’s default privacy settings allow people who live in your area or network to see your information, even if you’re not friends. Change this right away.
- Monitor photos – Keep a close eye on photos that you post or are tagged in. If you feel any of these could incriminate you, untag yourself or ask the person who posted it to delete it right away.
- Watch what friends post – Monitor what’s being posted on your wall to make sure nothing will contradict the claims you’re making or could be misinterpreted.
- Take care when posting status updates – Even something as little as a smiley face can be taken the wrong way and used against you.
- Monitor comments – Be careful when commenting on friends’ statuses or photos – even a comment that sounds angry or irritable toward another person can be used as evidence.
- Consider your entire online presence – Although Facebook, Twitter, and blogs are the most targeted, don’t forget about the rest of your online presence. Are you on MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, or Flickr? These may all be other sources of information for lawyers.
- Ask the question: “Who am I really sharing this information with? Could it be used as harmful evidence?” If your gut tells you yes, it’s probably a good idea to refrain from posting it.
Being in the middle of a court case can be a stressful time – and we want to make sure you get what’s owed to you. Even if you consider yourself a social media addict, using the above pointers to guide you during a trial can be a great help – and can increase the likelihood the case will go in your favor.