Spread Of Social Media Into The Legal System

With over 500 million active users on Facebook and 175 million active users on Twitter, it is without a doubt that social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter are a growing trend.  However, what is generally not known is that social media is also becoming more integrated in the legal system today.

For instance in a relatively well known case, a Facebook status provided a teen with an alibi to a Brooklyn robbery and caused the case to be dismissed.  For 19-year-old Rodney Bradford, who turned himself in, confident he would be cleared and was later picked out of a lineup, a simple Facebook status was his saving grace.  Coincidentally, while the two men were being robbed at gunpoint, twelve miles away Bradford was updating his Facebook status in his father’s home.  The case was dismissed.  Read the rest of the article here:  http://articles.cnn.com/2009-11-12/justice/facebook.alibi_1_facebook-alibi-update?_s=PM:CRIME

“We’re in a much more trackable world, and for better and for worse,” states Jonathan Handel, an entertainment and digital media attorney.  But with of the growth of social and digital media, comes a loss of personal privacy.

In a recent decision in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in Piccolo v. Paterson, the trial court ruled that if a Defendant sends a friend request to the Plaintiff solely to access to photographic Facebook postings, the Plaintiff cannot be compelled to accept the request.  In Piccolo, the Plaintiff sustained permanent facial lacerations as a result of the accident and had already supplied several pre-accident and post-accident photos.  The court ruled that compelling the Plaintiff to produce more photographs would be overkill and a waste of time.

This is to be contrasted with the decision in McMillen v Hummingbird Speedway, Inc. in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania where the Plaintiff sought to recover damages for injuries when he was rear-ended by the Defendant.  The Defendant took the position that after reviewing the public portion of McMillen’s Facebook account and discovering comments about his fishing trip and attendance at the Daytona 500 race in Florida, there was reason to believe that the Plaintiff’s Facebook page offered relevant evidence that would contradict the Plaintiff’s claims of limitation in daily activities as a result of the accident.  The court held that a person using these sites could not “reasonably expect that the communications would remain confidential.”  To hold otherwise would be to recognize an evidentiary privilege for such communications. The court declined, reiterating that there is no “social media privilege” recognized by Pennsylvania’s court or legislature.  Thus the Plaintiff was ordered to produce user names and passwords and to not delete or alter any of the information.

Although social networking websites are relatively new, because of the growing population of users, social media is rapidly finding its way into legal proceedings.  Written discovery requests and deposition questions regarding the use of social media is now the norm.  More court decisions can be expected in the near future.