THE BLOG
08/30/2013 12:24 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2013

Beware of Legal Threats Social Networks Pose

It should be understood by now that posting anything on a social network assumes you are freely giving that information to the public. Given that fact, let's discuss the legal implications of openly sharing on the Web.

Professionals, kids, and parents use social networks to connect with friends, family, colleagues, customers and potential clients. However, you need to be cautious when posting information or photos. Anything posted online, with you "cited" as the source, can be used against you in a court of law.

The cases abound now where online posts have gotten kids and adults into serious legal trouble.

No one really plans to defend themselves in court when posting a provocative photo on Instagram or Tweeting about last night's party, but you must be prepared for anything.

Consider the following legal risks that arise from participation in social networks:

  • Busted! -- If your social network post or photo discloses criminal activity, you can be investigated and arrested. For example, recently an aspiring rapper's Instagram photo of a wad of cash lead to his arrest and his involvement in the largest underground illegal weapons network in NYC history. Read that story here.
  • Anonymity? Gone! - Although it may seem like you can remain anonymous online, nothing is private. Everything can and will be traced back to you. Before posting anything online, stop and ask yourself, "Will this post negatively affect me? Could it ever be used against me?" Remember: don't post things online that you don't want the police or your mother to know.
  • Identity Theft? Yes please -- Hackers and thieves use social networking sites to collect information about their victims. It's the easiest, most convenient place to glean personal, vital information in order to harm someone. Robbery, assault, and murder have been inflicted on those that were too loose-lipped.
  • Nightmares in HR or College -- Don't be surprised if you go in for an interview and your potential employer has viewed your Facebook profile. Applicants for jobs or universities need to be aware of what's on their social network profile, not just what they post but what their friends add to their walls or tag them in. College entrance boards and employers must also be cautious when looking at potential candidates. It is unlawful to discriminate based on gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.
  • Attorney-Client Confidentiality? -- When you hire an attorney, you assume everything you tell them is keep in confidence. You are confident he or she will be trustworthy and keep all information confidential. This agreement means that whatever you disclose cannot be used against you in court. With such an agreement, don't be the one who breaches your own confidentiality by carelessly posting on Facebook. Don't discuss any details with anyone except your attorney.
  • Assault on Kids -- Sexual predators and sex traffickers use social networks to find victims. Understand their methods to prevent it from happening to your child. Along with sexual predators and traffickers, another source of harm is cyberbullying. Talk with your children about cyberbullying and help them feel comfortable enough to tell you when/if it happens.
  • Criminal Law -- Digital trails are being explored and used in criminal cases. Even joking about illegal activity can land you in prison; 18-year-old Justin Carter posted a threatening comment on Facebook, then got arrested and then imprisoned.
  • Family Law Fiascos - Twitter posts and Facebook profiles/posts have been used as evidence in divorce and child custody cases. Just as in child custody and divorce cases, digital trails are being explored and used in criminal cases. Even joking about illegal activity can land you in prison; 18-year-old Justin Carter posted a threatening comment on Facebook, then got arrested and then imprisoned.

Be cautious and smart when using social networking sites. The feeling of anonymity that comes from no face-to-face interaction is an illusion. All information and photos, once posted publicly, is free to access and use and stays in server farms for years to come.

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