Facebook Posts in Court: Useful Information or Evidentiary Minefield?
As we become a more technologically savvy society, social media – like Facebook or MySpace pages, blogs, professional networks like LinkedIn, comments to news stories and personal websites – surround us on the Internet. Those sites, specifically the content posted upon them, have become a topic of debate in legal circles.
Some attorneys – commonly divorce and family law attorneys – see them as a font of information that helps demonstrate another party’s character. They say that these postings, both in word form and in photographs, are invaluable when determining the propriety of divorce property settlements and the custody of children. Postings, photographs and uploaded videos have also been used as persuasive tools in criminal cases, being introduced by prosecutors looking for sentence enhancements.
A recent landmark case has highlighted how harmful social media can be when too much reliance is placed upon it and it is seen as factual instead of opinion. A union employee at American Medical Response of Connecticut was fired when she used Facebook to express frustration at actions of her supervisor. She filed a complaint with the union, and the National Labor Relations Board has brought suit on her behalf, suing her former employer for allegedly illegally terminating her.
Lawyers and judges on the other side of the social media debate equate social media content to a high-tech violation of evidentiary rules involving hearsay (information that cannot be challenged because it is essentially unverifiable). These opponents of a courtroom display of social media posts fear that off-handed comments, often made by an uninvolved observer or acquaintance, can be highly detrimental to a party in a civil or criminal case in spite of the fact that the party in the case had no control over the dissemination of that information. They also fear the fact that social media is essentially unregulated, and that fact alone could possibly lead to libelous, slanderous or otherwise defamatory information about someone being released for the whole world to see.
Laws governing the admission of social media content as evidence vary from state to state and sometimes from courtroom to courtroom. If you are involved in a civil or criminal case, you should seek the advice of an experienced attorney in your area to make sure that your rights are not violated and that your interests are adequately protected.