Hidden Legal Dangers of Social Media

How attorneys can use social media against you

Posted:  Jan 15, 2016

For many of us using social networking sites have become second nature and we rarely think twice about what we share.  Consider these facts by the Pew Research Center:

  • 74% of all internet users are active on social media (compared to 8%    in 2005)
  • Younger uses (18-29 years old) have an 89% usage rate
  • 71% of online adults use Facebook (approximately 1.15 billion users)
  • 23% of Facebook users login at least 5 times per day
  • 17% of online adults use Instagram
  • Americans spend approximately 16 minutes per hour of internet usage engaged in social media sites
  • Adult Facebook users have an average of 338 friends in their network
  • Almost 60% of adult users are creators or curators of content on social media sites

With this staggering usage, users often feel a level of anonymity that allows them to share information that they may otherwise not.  As one might imagine, insurance companies, defense attorneys, and opposing parties have turned to this treasure trove of information to try to diminish or destroy a victim’s case in the court system. 

The problem with social media is it often portrays an inaccurate picture of a user. 

As a society we are quick to post our “best side” to social media sites, pictures with smiles, engaging in activities, enjoying friends and family, and posts that share optimism and vibrancy.  With these posts often come the innocent comments from people in our network reinforcing how fun the activity was and how the individual needs to do the activity again.

The danger of social media in a personal injury case

The problem is that the posts that show our “best side” don’t necessary show our true self.  In a personal injury matter, an injured person may not want to post pictures of being in pain or posts with complaints due to the perception of being a “whiner.”

After all, who isn’t going to smile for a picture despite pain? More often than not, the injured person "plays through the pain" in an effort to put their very best side forward in the social world. 

Social media dangers during a divorce case

Likewise, in a divorce, an innocent activity may be taken out of context to diminish a party’s parenting abilities. Therefore, social networks sometimes only show one, potentially wholly inaccurate, side to the poster.

Knowing that insurance companies, defense attorneys, and opposing parties will try to take these snippets and paint an inaccurate picture, there are measures that one can take to try to minimize the possible negative effects of social media to their case. 

We recommend the following:

1. Suspend Social Media Use
The very best way to prevent being misrepresented in the social media world is to simply not use it, especially right after an injury and throughout the duration of any litigation.  However, for some this may not be feasible.  If you must use social media consider the following recommendations.

2. Be Accurate
If you must post, be sure that what you are posting is accurate and complete.  Although it may be accurate to state that you “had a great time at the Tacoma fun run,” what does this actually mean and imply to a third party?  Did you run? Observe?  Be specific.  If you were there to observe a friend race, post “I had a great time watching the Tacoma fun run.”  It may seem unnecessary and awkward, but it could help clear up any misunderstanding. 

3. Limit Posts
Instead of actively posting continuously, be an observer to your network and don’t post pictures or “status updates” especially regarding yourself.  Something as innocent as a picture holding a child can have a negative impact to your case if it is misrepresented.  Most importantly, never publicly discuss the particulars of your case, including things such as treatment, injuries, opposing parties, or expected outcome.

4. Be Careful of Who Your “Friends” Are
Never accept “friend requests” from someone you don’t personally know.  That really friendly person asking you to reveal your personal information may be an insurance adjustor or a friend of an opposing party searching for information to use against you.

5. Turn-Up the Privacy Settings
Most social network sites offer users numerous privacy settings to protect personal information.  Use them! Make sure that the general public cannot access pictures, status posts, updates, etc. without being someone that you actually know.  Try to limit who can “tag” you in pictures or posts.  The more secure you can make your personal information, the less of a chance it is to fall into the hands of someone you don’t know.

6. Know That Nothing is Sacred
Privacy settings may no longer be enough to protect your information.  It is increasingly common that opposing parties use discovery powers (interrogatories, request for productions, subpoenas, etc.) to obtain the contents of social networking pages.  Realize that anything that you post, regardless how secure you think it is, may need to be produced during litigation.  Once something is in the social network it always remains there.

The bottom line is social networking can often be dangerous and full of unexpected hazards.  If you must use it, be careful and thoughtful about anything you post or that is posted about you.      

This general informattion is provided by Helland Law Group located in Tacoma, Washington and serving all Pierce County and Tacoma, Gig Harbor, Federal Way, Auburn, Puyallup, Kent, Univeristy Place, and Lakewood.  Our office represents individuals in family law matters including divorce, child custody, and child support proceedings.  Contact our at (253) 572-2684 to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

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