As the popularity of Facebook and other social networks have increased exponentially over the last few years, we have been made increasingly aware of the potential dangers of displaying personal information about ourselves- what we did this weekend, photos of parties where we had fun, etc. But the ease with which we tell our friends and family about recent happenings in our lives has its risks. Once we open the door, it’s hard to close it.
For instance, students are being told by placement and career development offices at undergraduate and graduate schools to closely monitor their privacy settings on Facebook. Why? It’s simple. If a potential future employer comes across pictures of you drinking at a fraternity party it may be detrimental to your career development!
Consider how damaging personal information on the web can be in a personal injury case. The photos you post or others post of you can be potentially problematic. Let’s say you sustained a low back injury in a car accident and you pursue a personal injury case. Moving furniture for your girlfriend? Great! Don’t tell your doctor you can’t. Be honest and truthful about your injuries to your doctor, lawyer, and anyone else you talk to about your injuries from a personal injury case.
Consider also that the privacy settings you set may ultimately not be so private. In a recent Pennsylvania ruling McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, the court allowed the defendant’s attorney’s to obtain all the information on the plaintiff’s Facebook pages in order to attack the credibility of the plaintiff in terms of what he alleged pertaining to how the injuries affected his life. McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, No. 113-2010 CD (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Sept. 9, 2010). In other words, the court ordered the plaintiff not to touch anything on his Facebook account and to allow the defendant’s attorney access to explore those pages. The motion filed by the defense actually sought the plaintiff’s user name and password. That portion of the motion was denied by the court. However, attorneys for defendants will continue to push for this data and it would not be surprising if in the near future a Pennsylvania trial court allowed the discovery of user name and password information.
The lesson here is of course be honest about your representations concerning your injuries. But, the photos on your Facebook page could be misconstrued and used as fodder in the defense’s case. That’s the risk of utilizing the ease of internet social networking. We give up a degree of privacy, perhaps without even realizing it.
If you have a personal injury case and are uncertain about how you should go about protecting your personal information on the web, talk to your lawyer in an honest an open manner about your concerns, keeping in mind that whatever is on the web about you is probably discoverable.