With 800 million users, Facebook is constantly increasing the influence it has on social media and on society. The ripple effect of its success has been staggering and not even the legal field is immune. Within the past decade, Facebook and other social media photos, tweets, ad statuses are being considered by courts as legitimate evidence in both criminal and civil trials.
Increasingly, more and more attorneys who are retained by clients in matters as trivial as a traffic ticket require their clients to shut down their social media accounts during the course of their dealings. You may think that you can’t live without Facebook or Twitter and even that your attorney might be over reacting but the use of Social Media accounts as evidence in trials is now considered standard and some courts, like those in Australia, even let individuals be served legally over Facebook accounts.
Say, for example, you are in the middle of a personal injury suit and you’re claiming significant damages in order to be compensated for your injury. A tweet about hitting a homerun during a softball game or posting photos on Facebook of a ski vacation could put your injury case in jeopardy.
A February 2010 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that 81% of the nation’s top divorce attorneys reported seeing a massive increase in the number of cases featuring social networking evidence in the past 5 years. For example, one man claimed insufficient income to make alimony and child support payments until his (soon-to-be) ex-wife’s attorney produced photos he had posted on Facebook of his new Ferrari, a cruise he had recently taken, and Facebook posts updating everybody of his recent success in selling real estate.
But it’s not enough that social media evidence is being used in courts, sometimes social media is used to catch individuals responsible for crimes. One man in Vermont stole a tour bus from his former employer and took it on a 3 hour long joy ride, ditching the bus in a nearby city. He may have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for the video he posted on YouTube of himself and a friend driving the bus.
Generally, if you’re doing something illegal, including perjury, going on a social networking site and presenting evidence of the misdeed is not advised. Also if you’re involved in any kind of legal suit, be careful about what you post on social media sites. These days, you may not know who is watching.