Social media: what you post can and will be held against you in a court of law

in User Help Last updated Apr 05, 2017

According to the latest statistics, more than 80 percent of Americans have social media profiles on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others. In fact, since the mid-2000s, social media use has increased by almost 60 percent in the U.S., and in 2017, updating posts on Facebook several times per day is normal for the average American. However, in most states, social media posts are considered public record and can be used as evidence in court cases. Therefore, many attorneys might advise their clients to steer clear of social media altogether if they are in the midst of a legal battle of some sort.  At the very least, one should always be careful how much and what type of information one shares when posting to social media sites.

friends at restaurant using social media on smart phones

While the majority of social media aficionados possess a sound understanding that criminal charges can stem from discussing wrongdoings or posting photos and videos of crimes online, many people are unaware that social media posts of everyday activities can also be used against them, in civil cases, in particular. A 2015 article in Slate, as well as a 2017 article in the Plymouth Daily News, highlights civil cases in which Facebook posts that depict the user having fun, engaging in witty banter, and in a content or happy state of being have actually jeopardized their success in civil suits. 

For example, the Plymouth article states, “If you have filed a claim for injuries in your bicycle accident, and two weeks later, you proudly post pictures of you competing in a cycling race, you’re bound to be in trouble.” 

In this case, the plaintiff has been caught in a seemingly obvious lie. However, the cases can become more complicated, since many people tend “put on a happy face” when it comes to social media, rather than displaying all of their hurts and fears for all to see.

One such case cited in Slate’s article involved an underage girl who was sexually assaulted by a teacher, who was, in fact, convicted of that crime. However, when the girl’s family sued the school district for damages, her Facebook account jeopardized the suit. Because the girl’s Facebook account contained posts, photos, and videos that captured the life of a normal, happy teenager, the school district’s attorneys pointed out that her social media posts contradicted her claims of “emotional distress” and “loss of enjoyment of life”.  While the girl may have, indeed, been suffering and merely putting on a “happy face” for social media, her posts were still used against her. 

These cases highlight the false sense of privacy many people feel when they adjust the settings on their accounts. A stranger may not be able to see your posts and photos on Facebook or Twitter, but authorities can gain access to those accounts if you ever become embroiled in any sort of legal battle. 

Bottom line? Be careful what you post on social media, especially in the midst of a civil suit. If your state considers those posts public record, social media can and will be used against you in a court of law.


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