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Can Social Media Be Used to Prove Crime/Accident/Injury?

Posted in Safety on December 22, 2015

People post everything on social media these days, including their illegal activities. These people really don’t think about the consequences of their actions. Recently, a woman in Florida streamed live footage of her drunk driving adventure on Periscope. Needless to say, someone alerted the police to her activities and she was arrested while driving through town. While that scenario ended with a clean arrest without the need to use the video as evidence, other cases may not be as clear. Can officers use what they find on social media as evidence in court? It depends. Courts have upheld and rejected social media as evidence in civil and criminal cases.

Good Lawyers Should Use Social Media

According to the American Bar Association, attorneys are expected to use all forms of technology, including social media, to thoroughly investigate and represent a client. They have to be careful, though. If they access private data, they may not be allowed to use it in court. Regardless of whether the court will admit it into evidence, an attorney can often learn much about a case from social media accounts, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and more. If the parties in a case heavily use social media, keeping an updated record of interactions and posts can help.

Good Lawyers Should Also Understand the Complexity of Using Social Media Content

In some cases, an attorney may use social media content to prove a point in a case. He or she must demonstrate that the content is relevant and was produced by the individual in question, discuss potential issues regarding its probative value, show that the piece entered into evidence is part of the original post, and address concerns regarding hearsay. In past cases, courts have not admitted social media content like a repost of a meme, but they have admitted Twitter posts as “state of mind” evidence as well as social media videos and pictures that can help police before, during, or after the commission of a crime. Every court is different, however, and the use for the content and the argument for admitting it into evidence will largely affect what can and can’t be used in a given case.

What This Means for Social Media Users

Anything you post publicly on a social media account is in the public forum. As long as an attorney can authenticate it, it’s as viable as a surveillance recording of you in any other public place. You’ve often heard that you should not post information on social media you wouldn’t want your boss seeing. The same is true for law enforcement. If you don’t want to face an investigation or have to explain your reason for posting the content, leave it off. Furthermore, you agree to the terms of use when you use a social media platform. If you haven’t read the terms, you may agree for a platform to hold and use your information as it sees fit, i.e. handing it over as evidence in a case. There haven’t been enough cases and precedents set to confirm for certain what is and is not allowed, and new social media platforms change the game every time they come into the marketplace. Most of it may constitute evidence in certain situations. Be careful with what you post on social media, but if you see illegal activity, potential evidence in your own case, or a potential admission of guilt for a crime, don’t hesitate to reach out to law enforcement or an attorney. The potential for using it as evidence or to help further an investigation could make a difference in the outcome of your case.