Legal Issues and the Role of Social Media

Let your posts on social media reflect what you say in court, or simply go silent on social media when you're involved in a court case.

Every good thing comes with its downside. This is the case for social media in legal issues.

When aggrieved victims share their stories of woe on social media, other users will often cheer them to take the matters to court, where they would get justice and possibly a windfall from the case. However, with the unbridled use of social media, the same platform that encouraged them to take a legal route will turn back to hurt their case.

This is the situation with a plaintiff in the Largent vs. Reed injury lawsuit case, in which she claimed that a motorcycle accident left her with severe physical and mental pain. After the defendant established that there were pictures of the plaintiff going to the gym and enjoying life, the defendant requested that the plaintiff provide the defendant with her Facebook username and password.

In another case, the plaintiff in Allied Concrete Co. vs. Lester filed a lawsuit against defendant in a wrongful death action. A Facebook post that included a photo of him holding a beer with a shirt declaring his “love for hot moms” caught the attention of his lawyer. Upon the advice of his lawyer, he cleaned up his Facebook page and deactivated his account. The trial court hit both the plaintiff and his attorney with sanctions for spoliation of $180,000 and $542,000, respectively.

What lessons can be learned in the above cases and several similar cases where social media became the undoing of litigants in court cases?

Social media posts can serve as evidence in court

We’re in the Facebook age, and the rules that apply to electronic discovery now bind a litigant’s Facebook data if there is evidence that warrants that the content of their pages be examined in relations to the case.

Gabriel Levin, an injury attorney at The Levin Firm, shared this piece of advice:

If you’re involved in a case and you’re worried that the content you shared on social media could affect your case, instead of deleting said content or deactivating your account entirely, changing your profile to “private” should help you keep your opponents from viewing contents you’ve shared online.

Given that a defendant would have to provide reasonable evidence that the content on a plaintiff’s profile would help in discovering admissible evidence, if your posts are private, they’ll have a hard time proving that.

Let your posts on social media reflect what you say in court, or simply go silent on social media when you’re involved in a court case.

Deleting social media posts during litigation is a bad idea

As we’ve seen from the example above, deleting posts that you think your opponent could use against you in a court case could be treated as destruction of evidence or spoliation–a serious offense in a civil or criminal law case.

Rather, in order to keep your social media activities from hurting your chances in a court case, begin to clean your pages before you even have a court case. No one knows when anything might come up.

James Jorner is a content strategist and marketer at Effective Inbound Marketing. His company specializes in online branding and digital marketing for businesses.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.