It’s pretty obvious that most social media users “are unlikely to capture shameful, regrettable or lonely moments with a camera.” But perhaps they should think again.
The Dangers of Social Media in Court Situations
A recent article described how social media can and will be used against you.
How could a simple birthday wish from a friend or colleague hurt you in any way, you wonder? Just ask the former general manager of a Burbank, California, Home Depot, who sued the company for gender discrimination in 2011, claiming that she’d been wrongly fired and experienced anguish, anxiety, and isolation from friends as a result.
So Home Depot dredged up dozens of posts on her Facebook wall from friends wishing her a happy birthday. Would a truly isolated woman get so many birthday wishes on Facebook? The case was settled out of court.
Use Social Media, Don’t Abuse Social Media
Or ask Kathleen Romano, who was “working at her desk at the Stony Brook University Medical Center in 2003 when her office chair collapsed. Romano sued the chair’s manufacturer, Steelcase, alleging that the chair had been defective and that its collapse caused her severe back injury, confined her largely to her home, and led to a loss of enjoyment of life.”
After clicking around Romano’s social media properties, Steelcase’s attorneys noticed that Romano’s Facebook profile photo showed her smiling—outside her home. And her MySpace postings were peppered with suspicious emoticons: smiley faces.
“We figured something smells here,” a Steelcase lawyer said later. “We wanted to see what else was in there.”
In 2010, the court granted Steelcase access to private corners of Romano’s social media presence to dig for more smiles; 12 years after the chair incident, Romano’s suit remains in litigation. Civil cases built on injury victims’ tales of woe have since been undermined by Facebook updates showing the alleged victims kayaking, riding a motorcycle, or performing a keg stand.
Social Media and Your Right to Remain Silent
Criminal cases – especially juvenile ones – are filled with examples of police and prosecutors going through your social media outlets in order to find things that will incriminate you. As former prosecutors, we know this because we used to do it, and it’s not as hard as it sounds — even if you think your profile is “private.”
Your social media activity is your online DNA and it leaves your fingerprints every time you click and type. Still, if you are involved in a lawsuit of any kind, it’s best to keep the following things in mind:
- Keep your profile private. It may not protect you from law enforcement but it will reduce the number of people who will try to take your life out of context.
- Don’t talk about your case.
- Think about what you are posting and how it could be used against you down the line.
- When in doubt, don’t post it.
- Think about your friends and their ability to tag you.
- Watch what you say, even if you think it’s harmless.