Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
22% of attorneys use social media for case investigation, according to the American Bar Association’s 2019 Legal Technology Survey Report.
Why? Because a powerful social media search is a veritable treasure trove of useful information, all in one place.
Social media is where most people go to share their political opinions, their emotional ups and downs, and throw in pictures as proof of achievements, cooking habits, childrearing struggles, or traumatic events. Sharing rants about ex-spouses or former employers online is commonplace, but that information can be gathered by attorneys for due diligence (and evidence) rather easily, and depending on its content, help or hurt a case.
Present social media as evidence
In Commonwealth v. Mangel, a criminal case, a judge ruled that evidence gathered from social media accounts could be used as evidence in a court case, an implication that reaches to personal injury cases too. Judge Michael Corriero explained that gathering information from social media sites is not considered illegally obtained evidence either, a fact reinforced in 2015 when the UK admitted 143 WhatsApp messages as evidence for a civil case.
The fastest way to update the biggest number of friends and family concurrently is often with social media, where people share pictures, send private messages, or post updates about events to their main feed. These very social media posts, messages, and even photos can provide insight into the psychological condition of an individual and the extent of their injuries, as demonstrated in Largent v. Reed.
- The plaintiff in a case might not be suffering from injuries they claimed in a lawsuit, evidenced by the list of injuries they share with others on social media,
- Injuries may not be as extensive as original claimed,
- Or life and wellbeing of an individual might not have been negatively impacted by an accident, something social media accounts overflowing with positive posts, pictures on vacation doing strenuous activities, and so forth might corroborate
And just because a person has privacy settings doesn’t mean information cannot be accessed by an attorney.
The Stored Communications Act (SCA), 18 USC Sec. 2707-2711 gives attorneys the right to subpoena information, as honored by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 34 so long as those requests are valid. That said, personal injury law cases are far the only case types which can benefit from social media evidence:
- Custody cases can be more easily determined with social media to investigate the behaviors and character of each parent, to verify which might be better for the child.
- Alimony or child support cases, too, can be aided with social media used to determine whether father or mother need child support or alimony payments, as demonstrated in a Milwaukee case.
Use social media to monitor client or opposition activity
During the course of an investigation, client or opposition activity can be regularly monitored to see where they go, what they do, and with whom they associate. Posts about someone, even if taken and shared by someone else, can still paint a clearer picture of their character, their thoughts, beliefs, and perhaps their guilt or innocence.
- If a client or opposing party claims they were or were not in a given location, social media can provide check-ins and geotagging to reveal their activities, and even verify an alibi,
- Posts can show what activities someone is engaging in,
- You can find out whether a client or opposing party has been involved in illegal activities. As Judge Michael Corriero explained, a young man accused of possessing a weapon claims he never had a weapon in his life, but his public Facebook pictures show him smiling with two guns in each hand.
Confirm contact or business information
If you are trying to verify individuals or businesses, the employees or the owners, and what contact information is legitimate, social media gets you access to a wide range of details including in places like Facebook, list of all previously associated are registered phone numbers, cities of residence, and email addresses.
- Social media lets you confirm email addresses, those linked to a given site, whether private or public. This can confirm other evidence or identification necessary for a case.
- You can use social media to verify domains and websites for businesses, who they are run by, where they are based, and what their contact information is for the legally registered entity.
Find related information
Users often associate anonymity with internet usage, especially social media. As a result, they don’t just post information about themselves, but they share information about friends or family members, giving a wide range of information tangential to the individual.
- You can find information on friends, family, or relatives which could help you identify important contacts or confirm information about an individual.
- You can identify potential witnesses or prove motive with access to social media.
- Social media accounts can give you additional information about the activities of not just one person, but those with whom they associate. If, for example, you are building a case against an individual for a crime, you might uncover information about associates who also have identifiable criminal content on their social media.
The rules of evidence legally apply to social media content the same as they do any other form of evidence and even individuals who try to delete content they have shared might still face adverse consequences. Authorities can still legally gain access to password-protected devices and even the FBI has found ways around unlocking devices in the famous dispute with Apple. To that end, while using social media in court cases remains relatively new, it brings with it many benefits a great deal of value for those attorneys who start making the most of social media searches.
If you’re interested in learning more about Tracers social media search for due diligence and evidence, start searching risk free and tap into the 42 billion points of data Tracers provides.