Social media and networking have become part of our daily lives, changing the way we interact with other people. The number of users on these sites number into the hundred of millions with more joining every day. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and other sites make it easier to stay in touch and share our lives with friends, family and the world. These days we share everything online, from pictures to blog posts and everything in-between.
As we put more and more of our lives online, we become desensitized about the impact that all this sharing can have in our lives. We think nothing about the hundreds of tweets, status updates and tagged pictures that we post online. And while these websites have a benefit in helping us stay connected to loved ones, they also come with their own host of risks.
What we share can impact us in ways we don’t consider. It can affect your school prospects, job opportunities, credit and loan applications and even court cases you may be involved with. Using information gathered about a person online (termed Social Media Discovery), has become more prevalent in recent years. Once you share something online, not only can friends and family see what you share; often strangers can as well. And some of these strangers could be employers, police officers, insurance agents or lawyers. This has also become true with personal injury cases.
Lawyers know that social media can offer up a wealth of information that can help the cases of both the negligent and injured parties. Using search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, they search these social networking sites to look through your profile, pictures and posts for any evidence that will help their case. They will also lookup anyone who is associated with you, including those who may or may not be linked to the accident.
Your own pictures and posts can be used against you in these cases. Uploading pictures of yourself ‘out having a good time’ can suggest that you aren’t in as much pain as you have claimed in your case. And creating blog entries and status updates about your day or activities could demonstrate that your injury may not be as severe. Even your internet usage and history can be used against you.
This happened in the case of Carter v. Connors (December 2009). The Plaintiff, Rosemary Carter, claimed that she was so injured after auto accident that she was unable to return fulltime to her job as an Administrative Assistant. Herbert Connors Attorneys (defendant) requested that the plaintiff’s internet history including records of Facebook usage. The court noted that these records were directly relevant to the case since they showed her capacity for work.
Evidence from the plaintiff’s Facebook account was also highlighted in the Case of Leduc v. Roman [February, 2009]. John E. Leduc (plaintiff) claimed that as a result of an accident caused by the negligence of Janice L. Roman (defendant), “his enjoyment of life has been lessened and the accident caused limitations to his personal life.” The defense discovered that he had a Facebook account which was set to private/friends only. They then made an application to the court to have his internet records including Facebook account (postings, pictures etc) preserved and produced as evidence to them. They cited that “the Facebook profile could contain information that “might have some relevance to demonstrating the Plaintiff’s physical and social activities, enjoyment of life and psychological well being”.
It’s clear than Canadian Courts consider social media accounts as documents to be presented to the court if they contain evidence that is related to the case. We encourage you to be safe and responsible in your online usage. If you are considering filing a case or have a case pending we have some advice for you:
- Always be honest and accurate with the information that you provide in your case.
- Check your privacy settings on your accounts. Know that nothing posted online is completely private, but you can control for the most part who has access to your information.
- Be discreet and cautious with what you post online. This is especially important since what you post can impact your case negatively.
- Look at the effect of what you’ve posted online before or around the time of the incident can have on your case.
- Do not discuss your medication or injuries with anyone online.
- Don’t ‘friend’ or ‘add’ people you do not know personally. You can unknowingly let a complete stranger posing as a friend gain access you the personal information on your account.
- Consider taking a hiatus or break from being on social networking sites for the duration of your case.