BEWARE: Social Networking Sites and the Law
Social networking sites originated in the mid-1990’s, but only recently began to expand across the web. Two of the largest social networking sites are MySpace (with over 118 million members) and Facebook (with over 120 million members).
The concept of social networking is easy enough. You begin by filling out a profile, then you look for people you know. When you find someone, you click to add him or her as a friend. Once this is done, you can see who your friends know, who your friends’ friends know, and so on. Social networking is a wonderful avenue for connecting with persons across the globe, but must be done with caution. Keep in mind, pictures, comments, and other information placed on your site may be accessed in any number of ways and may upon proper predicate be used against you in litigation.
Family law practitioners can uncover a wealth of information using social networking sites. Many firms are now making it routine to perform MySpace, Facebook and Match.com searches to see if they can obtain useful information on the opposing party, witnesses, or experts. Such diligence has paid off in some cases. In one case in particular, pictures were discovered of a wife’s sexually explicit boasts on her boyfriend’s MySpace page. The evidence obtained assisted lawyers in securing child custody for the husband. In another case, an attorney was able to undermine an opposing spouse’s credibility when she confronted him with his MySpace page describing him as “single and looking.” While yet another case was won because a husband presented himself as “divorced” and gave a long description of the type of woman he wanted to meet. Information obtained from these sites can be very useful when counsel is trying to provide proof of a spouse’s infidelity. Therefore, is important to carefully and periodically monitor what you place on your social networking site.
Social network evidence may in most cases also be used in child custody cases. Pictures of a parent in various compromising situations while a child or children are in the parent’s custody can present a major problem in a custody lawsuit. Partying, drinking, and negative statements about children used on social networking sites can be offered as evidence in Court. Parents should use caution when placing pictures and other information on their social networking site.
Keep in mind that your employer can access your social networking site. In one case, a partner in one of Dallas’s larger law firms used MySpace and Facebook to uncover details of a client’s former employee and her plans to circumvent a non-compete agreement.
Social networking has also been used in sexual harassment cases. In Houston, Texas, a plaintiff was portrayed as a modest, innocent “wannabe nun.” The opposing counsel found a MySpace page that painted a very different picture of a plaintiff, with numerous photos of her in scanty or provocative attire and engaged in suggestive horseplay at bars and with friends.
Evidence obtained from social networking sites has been used in personal injury and in criminal cases. Attorneys are running cyber checks on jury pools. Many firms are running cyber searches on new clients, witnesses, opposing parties and experts.
In the ever growing and expanding world of cyberspace, it is becoming increasingly important that you inform your counsel of any and all internet usage, sites and blogs which you have joined or participated in so that they may represent you and be properly prepared.