Social Media – We all have it and the world as we know it wouldn’t operate the same if we didn’t. Whatever your choice of poison: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, or any number of other outlets to interact and make post to others – social media is the fastest and easiest way to communicate in today’s time. But did you know that social media is also one of the fastest ways to hinder you during a legal proceeding?
Most of us think that changing our privacy settings to friends only, or to a setting that only allows certain individuals to see our post would be all we needed to do to keep unwanted people from having access to our social media post, but unfortunately this has little to no affect when it comes to using a post as evidence in a court proceeding. Anything you post to social media is obtainable through a subpoena, even if it was privately posted or even if it has been deleted.
Most people are unaware that a lawyer can issue a subpoena to the various social media companies for the records of an individual’s activities on social media. Anything you post, comment, message, like, share, or interact with on social media is being kept on a record somewhere. We would note this is also true of text messages and cell phone records. Even if you delete your post or your entire social media account altogether, a record has been kept and can be used as evidence in your court proceedings. It only takes a piece of paper and a signature to get these records – it’s as easy as that!
It is important to consider what you do on your social media accounts, especially during the heart of a court proceeding. What you think is an innocent post or comment could easily turn on you in court. What you say or do could be perceived much differently in the eyes of another person than what you intended it to say or mean for yourself.
Attorneys and Court Officials are notorious for browsing social media to find information that may be beneficial, or detrimental, to a case. Anything you do on social media may be admissible as evidence in court, and with the easy access and availability of such posts, it has become one of the most effective and least expensive ways of offering evidence in legal proceedings.
One may ask: what if my profiles are private and I have certain individuals blocked? Unfortunately, this is often of little to no help to you. During a court proceeding, you never know who may be watching your social media. Attorneys, legal assistants, private investigators, or even fake profiles can be used to gain access to what you post online. Just because someone follows you doesn’t mean that they aren’t sharing what you post or taking pictures of it for someone else. The easiest way to avoid hurting your case is to not post at all.
Whether it be in a criminal matter or a family law matter, your social media posts can be used against you. Let’s think about how social media activity could impact you in a divorce or child custody proceeding. Say that you are in the middle of a divorce and there are children involved. You go out for a night on the town with a group of friends and end up having a few drinks. Pictures get taken and your friend tags you on social media. The next thing you know, your soon-to-be ex-spouse is suing you for custody of your children and alleging that you have engaged in an extramarital affair. WHAT? HOW? NO WAY!
Yes way, and such evidence would be absolutely admissible in court! Remember that picture you took? You were holding a cup in your hand, your eyes were red and glassy, and you were a little too close to the person standing next to you. Now your soon-to-be ex-spouse has talked to their attorney and they are alleging that you are unfit to parent your children based on this one picture. They have alleged that you were drunk (even if you were not) and that you spent a night out on the town and left your kids at home (even if you had a babysitter or nanny). They also allege that the person standing next to you is the person that you cheated on them with all because you have your arm around them or because you are standing too close to them.
While all of those allegations could be, and probably are, totally false it would come down to how a court would perceive this one post. A good attorney will argue in favor of their client and this one piece of evidence could be the deciding factor for the judge to rule in their favor. Even if you untag yourself or are not friends on social media with the person, the picture is still out there, and someone can and likely will find it. It is amazing what you can find when you are actively looking for something. As the old saying goes: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
When children are included in a post or picture, parents often disagree on the nature and type of pictures that are posted. While both parents are entitled to have their opinions about what to post regarding children, it often becomes a hotly debated topic in family court hearings. What you perceive as a cute post of your child in the bathtub or at the beach on a warm summer day might actually come back to haunt you in the long run. Our advice is to leave children out of social media posts altogether. Courts are more likely to ere on the side of caution in Child Custody cases and you wouldn’t want a simple post to keep you from having custody of your children.
Using social media is a great way to reconnect with long lost friends, high school classmates, or distant family members. Social media can be fun and entertaining and is often a good pastime. However, our attorneys at McCollum Law PC encourage all clients (present and future) to be mindful of what they do on social media. What you say or do today could have an impact on you tomorrow. Remember, you never know who is watching or who will see your social media activity. The last thing you want to do is allow a simple misconception to result in a favorable outcome for an opposing party. Think before you post!
Should you have any questions about your potential legal matters or if you think you may have a case, feel free to reach out to us at 919-861-4120. Our attorneys are ready to assist you in whatever legal matter you may face.
By Cody Boykin, Attorney at McCollum Law, PC