Most Social Media Users Unaware Posts Can Be Used in Court

Posted July 30, 2013 in Social Networks by

Gavel on a computer screen

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Social media activity has become so routine that many users never give a second thought to posting a photo or “checking in” to a favorite hangout. But most of those users have no idea the digital trail they leave behind can be used against them in court.

A new survey from Lawyers.com shows that only 46 percent of Facebook users realize their posts can be used as legal evidence. Users of other social media sites were even less aware; 44 percent of YouTube users, 38 percent of Twitter users, 32 percent of Instagram users and 25 percent of Vine users understood that their activity can come back to bite them.

“Our society’s inclination to tweet, post and share everything about our personal lives can be fun – but it can also lead to legal trouble,” said Larry Bodine, Esq., editor-in-chief of Lawyers.com. “Our survey shows that most people are unaware that their online ‘digital trail’ can and will be used against them in legal situations, despite privacy settings or deleted posts.”

“Social media users don’t even need to post evidence of illegal activity: If a ‘check-in’ or an Instagram places a defendant somewhere they shouldn’t have been, or claim not to have been, it impacts a case. Social media activity can absolutely be subpoenaed.”

Even if you think you’re establishing a defense by explaining yourself online, you’re probably not doing yourself any favors. Viral video celebrity “Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker,” who has been jailed on murder charges since May, suggested via Facebook that he was drugged and raped by his alleged victim. The post is expected to play a key role in his prosecution.

It’s not just criminal court you have to worry about, either. Over-sharing about a failing marriage can backfire on your divorce proceedings. Posting a video of your rad windsurfing skills could cast doubt upon your claim of a debilitating workplace injury.

And, as we reported last week, posting comments on your own virtual wanted poster may help hasten along your arrest.

The survey results show that users under 24 are about twice as likely to be aware that their posts can be used against them as users who are 55 or older. Users with lower household incomes and educational levels were also less likely to expect their online lives to come up in court than their wealthier, degree-holding counterparts.

So now you know: don’t post or tweet anything you can’t explain to a judge.

Did you know your social media activity is fair game in court? Have your social media sites ever been subpoenaed for your information? Share your stories in the comments section below.

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