Woodbury, Minn. (PRWEB) June 28, 2012
Social media has become a goldmine for investigations and discovery in civil litigation. To be sure, the popularity of social media has exploded in recent years. As of 2011, Facebook boasts more than 750 million active users, at least 50 percent of whom log on to Facebook on any given day. Twitter has more than 200 million registered users, with 460,000 new users joining every day, and an average of one billion “tweets” per week, according to The Huffington Post. LinkedIn claims it had more 100 million users and in excess of 2 million businesses with company pages. With increasing frequency, courts are finding that what a person posts on Facebook can be admitted in litigation.
DON’T “FRIEND” THE OPPOSING PARTY
A paralegal or legal assistant may be asked to conduct research on Google, other search engines, or social networking sites for an opposing party, witness, or expert. The supervising attorney may have a legal assistant or paralegal save screen shots of someone’s Facebook account, then submit an affidavit or otherwise testify about the method in which the information was procured and produced.
Caution should be used, however, when trying to “friend” an opposing party or witness for litigation purposes. An article appearing in the January/February 2012 issue of “Federal Lawyer Magazine,” Christopher E. Parker, Travis B. Swearingen, “Tweet” Me Your Status: Social Media in Discovery and at Trial, 59-FEB Fed. Law. 34 (2012), the authors suggest that paralegals should not “friend” an opposing party or a witness to obtain information about a person on a social networking site. Courts and ethics opinions have concluded that conduct like this may violate ethical rules (see Philadelphia Bar Opinion 2009-2).
Rather than furtively gain access to a user’s account through a “friend” request, legal counsel can pursue information found on social media through traditional discovery, such as interrogatories and requests for production of documents. A paralegal may assist the attorney in drafting discovery requests or responding to discovery requests for information posted on a social networking site.
Besides the use of social media sites for investigations in civil litigation and employment screening, police and law enforcement officials are increasingly using social networking sites to gather information as part of investigations. Content posted on social media sites can serve as direct evidence of a particular crime. In addition, evidence can be used to illustrate the character and lifestyle of an accused person. For example, in 2005, photographs taken at a post-game riot after a Pennsylvania State University football game were posted on Facebook, which police then used to identify and cite about 50 students. Photographs of gang symbols, weapons, or tattoos posted on social networking sites can also be used to identify and gather information of suspects.
As powerful as social media can be as an investigation weapon, it can also be vulnerable to nefarious attack. In June 2012, for example, LinkedIn user data were jeopardized when its database was hacked and at least 6.5 million passwords were stolen and posted on a Russian hacker site. Many people will often use the same password for several sites, which opens up the possibility for hackers to gain unauthorized access to other websites.
In coming years, as social media becomes more widespread, using content and data posted on social networking sites for investigations will continue to increase. And as that need increases, rest assured that paralegals and others in the legal profession will have to have finely-tuned social media skills.
ABOUT BRIAN CRAIG
Brian Craig is the legal program chair for the online division of the Globe network of career colleges, universities—including Globe University and Minnesota School of Business—and training centers based in Woodbury, Minn. He predominantly teaches constitutional issues, intellectual property, business law, criminal law, cyber law, and legal research. Prior to joining the faculty of Globe University and Minnesota School of Business, Brian Craig worked as an attorney at Thomson-Reuters from 2002-2008. He also previously worked as a legal editor for Wolters Kluwer, judicial law clerk for Idaho District Court Judge Carl Kerrick, and legislative aide for Senator George Runner in the California State Legislature.
Craig has taught legal research and writing at the University of Minnesota Law School as an adjunct instructor. He is an active member of the Academy of Legal Studies in Business and an articles reviewer for the American Business Law Journal. Craig is the author of the textbook Cyberlaw: The Law of the Internet and Information Technology published by Pearson/Prentice Hall in January 2012. He has also written scholarly articles appearing in the North Dakota Law Review, Real Estate Law Journal, Real Estate Review, Perspectives: Teaching Legal & Writing, and Raven: A Journal of Vexillology.
Craig received a B.A. in political science from Brigham Young University and a J.D. from the University of Idaho College of Law.
ABOUT GLOBE UNIVERSITY
Globe University is part of a premier, family-managed system of career colleges, universities and training centers based in Woodbury, Minn. These specialty skills colleges prepare work-ready professionals for successful careers in a wide range of high-demand fields. Through its mission, We Care, the organization integrates hands-on and career-focused education with service- and applied-learning experiences that expose students to their communities and real-world situations. Programs offer undergraduate, diploma and graduate degrees in a wide range of career fields, including a paralegal associate degree program, business and accounting, health sciences, legal sciences, technology, creative media and applied arts. More than 30 programs are available online. All academic programs are accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). For more information, visit http://www.globeuniversity.edu.