Social Networking: You Say It Or Show It, You Have to Defend It

Social media provides everyone with a digital treasure trove of information. Always remember what you post online can and often will be used against you.

Approximately one half of all adult internet users in the United States have a profile on a social networking site. A 2010 Nielsen survey shows 22.7% of an American’s time is spent on social networking and continues to grow as social networking is considered the most popular online activity. When posting on Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking sites, just remember the updates you post can cause serious problems when searching for a job, starting a new relationship, or during involvement in a legal issue or lawsuit!

People are now sharing practically everything online. Can this get you in trouble? YOU BET!! Social networking technologies have forced people to learn how to navigate the murky waters between business and pleasure. Such a mixture creates a “Permanent Record” on social networking sites. On Facebook and Twitter, it is very common to see spouses discussing very private issues and sharing it with their “multi” buddies online and “Advertising their Product” for all to see. Social networking sites can provide any one who is confused, angry or distraught with a perfect venue for airing their gripes and disclosing their feelings in public!

Evidence from all social media sites is now being used by prosecutors, defense attorneys, personal injury attorneys, employment attorneys, securities litigators, and particularly family law attorneys. A 2010 American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey found that 81 % of divorce attorneys have increased their use of social media to find evidence against the opposing side. The main source of information is Facebook, with 66% of the attorneys citing it as the source for incrimination information followed by MySpace (15%) and Twitter (5%).

A Wide Variety of Evidence?
1. Incriminating photos
2. Incriminating statements and wall posts
3. Status Updates
4. Mood Indicators
5. List of Friends
6. Login/Log off records for example: not able to work, alcohol/drug use, intimate issues.

How to Preserve Evidence from Social Media Sites?
1. Publicly viewable profiles and content are fair game
2. Subpoenas directed to sites like Facebook are likely dead ends.
3. Well-tailored discovery requests to the person.
4. Motion compelling the user to execute a consent form permitting the discovery seeking party to obtain the profile contents.

How to Authenticate Evidence from Social Media?
1. Stipulation
2. Admission from author/poster.
3. Testimony from person who copied information

Think about these Situations before using Social Media to sound off:
1. If you share a computer with a spouse or business partner and there is a potential break up; create a new web-based email address with a new password to ensure no other unauthorized access.
2. Don’t forget the children! Always more tech-savvy than mom and dad, monitor children to ensure information related to divorce proceedings or family problems do not become part of the internet!
3. Never make online references to finances. No big trips, bonuses or raises at work. This could affect your case adversely.
4. Always be careful with third- party conversations. The internet has many eyes and not just your friends.

The sudden advance and reach of social media is forcing the legal system to adapt quickly. Social media is causing legal professionals to look at new sources of evidence and discovery and to consider the implications of this technology.


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Attorney Mark A. Nacol is board certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization

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