Are You Involved in a Lawsuit? Here’s What You Need to Know About Social Media and How It Can Impact Your Case
No matter what type of legal matter you are involved in, your use of social media can cause irreparable harm to your case. Read on to learn how you can protect yourself and your case by using caution on social media.
What Is Social Media?
Social media includes any online forum where you create, share, or exchange information. The most obvious example is Facebook, but don’t forget about Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Youtube, Linkedin, and any other online network, forum, or community.
Regardless of your privacy settings, you should be cautious when using social media if you are involved in a legal proceeding. And that doesn’t just mean that you should be careful about what you post to your own page. You leave a digital footprint every time you interact with social media, whether by commenting on a friend’s post, “liking” a photo, following an account, or sending a direct message.
Why Does My Social Media Use Matter to My Lawsuit?
Anything you post (whether on your own page or as an interaction with another account) may be used as evidence in your case. This is true even if you think that you have selected the most restrictive privacy settings on your social media account. You do not have an “expectation of privacy” with regard to content you share on your social media account, even if that information is only shared with your limited “friends” list. Contrary to what some viral memes may tell you, you cannot change this fact by posting any particular language about “opting out” of Facebook’s terms.
What Social Media Pitfalls Should I Avoid While I’m Involved in a Legal Matter?
Here are some important social media do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when you are involved in a legal proceeding:
1. Don’t Post Anything That Could Be Used Against You Later
Before you post anything to your social media account, ask yourself how the post would make you look to an opposing attorney or to the judge or jury in your case. Can your post be taken out of context or misconstrued in any way? Does it undermine any of the claims or defenses you have made in your case? If you’re unsure, err on the side of caution by avoiding the post.
For example, if you are a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit, posting a photograph of yourself doing something outside of your physician-recommended restrictions could be used to show that your alleged injuries are not as serious as you have claimed. Similarly, if you post a stream of happy, smiling pictures of yourself you may undermine your claim of emotional distress. We all know that social media is a highlight reel of our lives and most people don’t post sad pictures of themselves even if that’s how they feel. However, it may be hard for a jury to reconcile a person’s peppy, emoticon-captioned social media posts with his or her legal claims of physical and mental pain.
Divorce and custody cases are other common situations where social media posts can become important. Does your social media history show you to be a responsible, caring parent, or does it paint a different picture? Could your innocent comments on a friend’s picture be interpreted as flirtatious and evidence of an alleged affair?
2. Do Not Talk Online About Your Case
It’s a good idea not to talk to anyone besides your attorney about your case, but it’s especially important not to talk about it online. Even if the messages you send are “private” or “direct” they could become evidence in your case. Temporary posts designed to disappear after a certain amount of time (such as messages sent on Snapchat) aren’t safe either. Remember that even temporary messages can be screenshot and saved by another person.
3. Don’t Delete Your Posts
You may think that you can un-ring the bell on your careless social media post by deleting it, but that’s not a good idea. Destroying evidence can be a serious matter when you’re involved in a lawsuit, resulting in possible sanctions (in other words, punishment).
4. Don’t Accept New Friend Requests from People You Don’t Know
Investigators and attorneys have been known to create fake social media accounts for the purpose of accessing information that would otherwise only be available to your “friends.” If you get a friend request from a person you don’t know in real life it’s best to ignore or decline it.
5. Do Keep Your Privacy Settings at the Highest Levels
While privacy controls do not prevent your social media history from becoming evidence in a lawsuit, it’s still a good idea to keep them set to the most restrictive/highest levels. Make sure that only your actual friends can see the information you post, not the general public or friends of friends.
Do You Need to Speak with an Attorney?
If you have questions about how social media can impact a potential legal claim you have, you should speak with a lawyer. The attorneys of Lewis, Lewis & Falkner are always happy to speak with you, and for many types of cases can give you a free consultation. Call us today at 205-553-5353, or come by our Tuscaloosa, Alabama office and let’s discuss how we can assist you.