Social media, whether we like it or not, is a major part of our lives. Whereas social media used to simply be a tool to keep up with friends and family, it is now a news source, a way to seek employment, and way to earn extra income. Social media impacts multiple parts of our lives every day. In fact, social media often has a large effect on court cases and legal claims. Social media may impact cases both inside and outside of the courtroom.
During a trial, jurors are told they are prohibited from watching or reading any news about the case.
Judges and attorneys want jurors to make their decisions based only upon evidence that is presented in the courtroom. Often, many pieces of evidence are kept out of a trial because it is biased or would otherwise have a negative impact on the case. However, if a juror is scrolling through social media, that juror may come across news articles or other posts that discuss the case, especially if it is a high-profile trial. Even viewing a headline may plant seeds of doubt in a juror’s mind.
Defendants and other witnesses may also be impacted by social media during a trial. An individual’s credibility may be destroyed with the introduction of a single post. Everything that a defendant has ever posted on social media may come back to haunt him or her during the case. For example, in a murder trial, how would it appear to the court if the defendant had posted negative statements about the victim at some point? In a car accident case, what would the jury think if the accident victim posted pictures of the family enjoying a ski vacation, seemingly unaffected by the injuries sustained in an accident? It is common for Facebook posts, tweets, Instagram photos, Snapchats, and other posts to be printed out or even displayed on a large screen for a judge and jury to examine during a trial.
Outside of the courtroom, social media may also impact a case. Once a case has been filed, the parties typically begin exchanging evidence during the discovery phase. During discovery, the parties request certain types of evidence from each other—such as photographs, medical records, cell phone records, driving records—the possibilities are endless, depending on the individual nature of the case. Many parties request copies of social media posts, along with text messages, emails, and other forms of communication. These items may be used to build a claim or defense in the case.
As an illustration, consider a couple that is divorcing after 30 years of marriage. The wife, who has stayed at home with the children, argues that she is entitled to alimony. However, she has carelessly posted photos of herself with her new boyfriend on Facebook. The husband’s attorney obtains copies of these photos and presents them to the court. According to Florida law, evidence of adultery may be considered when determining issues of alimony. Therefore, the wife’s Facebook posts may reduce the amount of alimony that is awarded in such a case.
Social media can be fun and entertaining. However, users should remember that anything and everything they post is essentially visible to the entire world. Social media enthusiasts must proceed with caution when sharing their lives online.