Today, everything we do online has potential consequences. The angry post you make on Facebook today, even if you delete it later, could mean losing a job or even in court tomorrow. In our increasingly connected world, the things we say can more easily come back to haunt us.
For example, in a recent case in Orange County, California, two neighbors were in a long-running dispute that had turned ugly. When one of them declared that it was out of character for him to use foul language and issue threats, the other's attorney then showed the jury screen captures of the man's Facebook wall that included derogatory comments towards his client and abusive, heavy language to go with it. The jury awarded the Facebook-scouring attorney's client nearly half a million dollars.
Attorney John Mitchell Jackson says that it's becoming standard procedure for trial attorneys to mine social media. He says it's "the trial attorney's obligation and duty to accumulate as much information as he or she can to support the client's case or defend against it. Many trial lawyers today are learning as much as they can about the parties and the witnesses through social media sites. And what people need to understand is that this information doesn't simply evaporate into thin air after it leaves your screen. It can be mined, analyzed and reviewed in civil and criminal cases."
Jackson can cite several examples of cases where social media was a central point of the trial for both the good and ill of his clients. Although it might appear obvious that if you're becoming involved in a suit, removing your social network profiles might be a good idea, Jackson actually advises against that.
It is a form of evidence tampering to remove social media profiles during trial, it turns out. Legally, it's called "spoilation" and can result in serious penalties. Most attorneys will advise their clients not to utilize social media during trial, however, so as not to give away anything new or divulge trial strategy.
In fact, from this perspective, social media can actually help a case or at least the public relations happening around it. Legal teams can use their clients' social media sites to advantage in order to report honest, useful information about a trial or case. This works well because lawyers aren't the only ones using social media during a trial.
Reporters use it as well. If you've read the news lately, then you know this. Quite often reporters will refer to an accused person's Facebook or Twitter accounts. Those accounts, in fact, can be the crux of the story itself, even, such as with the recent video posted on YouTube two two high school girls here in South Florida.
For these reasons, how we use social media on a daily basis can affect us in ways we may not imagine. Using caution and common sense as a general rule when interacting using Twitter, Facebook, etc. is just.. well, common sense. Those frat party photos can come back to haunt you, but even that snide comment made in response to someone else's posting can sneak up on you later too. But you probably knew this already if you read my book on the topic.