Social media has infiltrated both the personal and professional aspects of the lives of many. Whether it’s a post about your weekend getaway or updates to your LinkedIn about your new job – we are constantly putting our lives on social media.
There are two major ways in which social media has affected litigation:
- The first is through the use of social media as evidence for or against one’s case
- The second is in regard to how things posted on social media can themselves be prosecuted
Both aspects open up new worlds within the legal market that are necessary to understand in order to remain up to date with the relationship between the Internet and law.
Although it may seem like posting on social media is just a way for us to let our friends know how we’re feeling and what we’re doing – we generally need to be cautious about what we choose to post on social media. People often post how their feeling in the moment regarding their job, politics or personal affairs, without considering future consequences. If, for example, a person is fired from their job and posts an angry rant on their Facebook about the situation, a future employer could easily Google search and find the post, making them less likely to hire the person.
In addition, social media posts never disappear. You may post something – and quickly realize that you should not have, and delete it, but that does not mean it’s gone forever. Posts get republished, screenshotted, saved, etc.
In short – your social media posts are always in existence somewhere, whether you intended for them to be or not. Screenshots prove to be major problem in the easiness to crop posts just down to a single line or few words, taking things completely out of context.
Within the legal field, social media posts can often be used as evidence.
One field of law that has increasingly employed social media evidence is in divorce and custody battles. When looking at whether a parent is fit to be a primary caregiver, social media can make or break a case. Everything posted on social media can be spun for or against a parent. Even a work sponsored happy hour could be used to argue that the parent is an avid drinker. Images of expensive meals or vacations can also be taken into account when considering financial support in divorce cases.
In order to support clients involved in disputes that could use their social media presence against them, lawyers should keep a couple things in mind.
First of all, the lawyers themselves should do their own Google search of the client to see what they are dealing with and understand what the opposition could use against them and figure out a way in which to spin things in a more positive light. Lawyers should also consider suggesting that their client make their social media more private during disputes. They may want to post less, make sure they have to approve the publishing of pictures of themselves by others and anything else that could hurt them in the case.
The second way in which social media has been intertwined with litigation, is through disputes regarding things published on social that could harm someone else, such as libel. As the Internet grew, governments worked to publish laws regarding legal disputes arising from social media posts. There are very few disputes that have actually gone to court about social media and the law.
This is in part due to the fact that no one wants to be made an example of. But, in order for change to occur and people to understand the legal ramifications of social media, big lawsuits and disputes will eventually have to come up. Both businesses and individuals should consider what they are posting in regard to how it could cause harm to others or break laws regarding things such as copyrights and privacy.
Overall, lawyers should be aware of how social media can affect the cases they are dealing with and understand ways in which they can advise clients in how to better use social media without potentially causing other, or themselves, any sort of harm.