Social media is a huge part of people’s day to day activities, with Facebook currently seeing 1.37 billion monthly users. Facebook posts and Tweets that were made months, or even years ago are being documented and brought back as evidence in the courtroom. However, has social media been widely accepted by judges and the law as a legitimate form of evidence? There are certain aspects required to ensure that social media is acknowledged in the courtroom.
A 2010 case in the USA proved that social media has the capability to be used as evidence in court, and in this case it backed up claims that were being made by the claimant. An 18 year old woman was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and to back up their claims that she ‘abused the use of alcohol’, the State used her Myspace posts to show that she ‘glamourized’ alcohol abuse through her written posts and pictures. The evidence provided through her Myspace pages led to her receiving an enhanced sentence.
Another recent example of social media use in the courts, was when a young girl on probation was photographed drinking in a bar, despite this going against the rules of her probation. The photo was then used as evidence at a probation violation hearing, showing once again the power of social media.
These are just a few of the many cases where social media has been used to provide evidence in the court, however certain guidelines should be followed in order to give the evidence the best chance of standing, here are a few:
Date and time stamps
Social media posts can VERY easily be deleted. For this reason, if individuals plan to use social media as a form of evidence for use with their case, they should always ensure that there is a clear date and time stamp. This will help to back up that the posts and account is theirs, and that they were the original proprietors of the information they shared on the account.
Verify that they own the account
Another key step is to verify that the individual is the owner of the account. Without this, there can always be a doubt as to whether it was the person who wrote the tweet or posted a Facebook status. After all, anyone can make an online profile under any name they like, and start posting pretending to be someone they aren’t. It is essential that the user is verified to be them, and that the account is secure.
Due to the ease of deleting posts from social media, screenshots should always be made and stored securely. This ensures that the evidence always remains, and it can’t just be wiped.
As time passes, social media is being accepted more frequently as legitimate evidence in court. Users should always be aware of what they are sharing online, as comments made several years ago can be brought back.
Joel Chapman, Online Marketing