Facebook posts, tweets on Twitter, comments on Google+, photos on Instagram, and yes, even archaic additions to MySpace — social media as evidence figures increasingly in law cases across the country and throughout the world. Would you have any idea how to use that content? Could your tweets be used against you?
For years, courts have allowed lawyers to present content from social media as evidence. These personal sagas have weighed heavily in ll sorts of law suits and in criminal cases. Think about it—people post whatever wild-ass idea comes to mind as they sit bleary-eyed—in front of computers, tablets, or mobile devices—and mindlessly spew.
That spewage can be fascinating, edifying, amusing, and extremely damaging. Here are some ways hsocial media evidence has come into play in recent years:
- Divorce cases—who’s doing whom online or in real time?
- Child custody—people brag about all kinds of unacceptable behavior
- Criminal—police use social media everyday to locate and shadow perpetrators and persons of interest
- Copyright cases
- Wrongful employment termination
- Hate crimes
If you’d like to see specifics, here’s an amazing table of cases from a single year.
And the list grows everyday.
What Law Students Need to Know about Social Media
- First, it can’t be said often enough that you must be extremely sane about what you put out there. Yeah, it’s seems real funny now to talk about how often you get drunk or are hung over, but how funny will that be when, as a law graduate, you’ve passed your bar exam and are out in the legal community looking for a law career?
- Second, you would be prudent to begin now to study up on how social media works, what information can be obtained from those social accounts, and how to obtain it in a useable form.
Posts, tweets, pictures, comments, blog posts—all are trackable. All leave a trail, sometimes as slimy as a snail’s path. Reputations can live and die on those trails, and even if one slams the edit or delete button till the cows come home, that content may live on in the inner workings of Facebook or Twitter.
Privacy settings aren’t fool-proof. Ask anyone who has ever had their social media content crop up in discovery or has lost an opportunity because of a casual, dumb remark they made on Twitter.
If you want specifics, here’s a social media as evidence article we found at BowTieLaw, a decent blog about unusual legal issues. It explains how social media evidence can be collected and used. Best recommendation? Get friendly with social media professionals who know the inside scoop.
Review and Govern Your Own Social Media Content
The kiss of death in law career terms can come from random social media activity. For example, would you be comfortable making some of those witty social media remarks on national television, or at a board meeting in the law firm looking to recruit you?
Do you get that whatever you put out there is there forever? Experts, those social media archaeologists, can dig out what you said online in middle school, folks. The Internet and its content is open to all. It is not private, and there is no expectation of privacy when you post stuff. None.
Law students just have to understand how such info is used, and it’s essential that you understand the consequences of your social media activity now and forever. Your law career may depend on it. It’s kind of like seat belt laws.
You can ignore them and get away with it for a long time. It’s unlikely you’ll get a ticket just driving around without you seat belt fastened; but how about the one time when not buckling up results in a fatality?
Buckle up and use caution with that keyboard. It’s great if you can turn someone’s social media mistakes tin a client’s favor, but it would be an uncomfortable dance when you end up facing the Facebook music.