Do you have a Facebook page? If you do, everyone from prospective employers to insurance carriers may be looking for you. The New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) recently charged two defense attorney’s with improperly asking their paralegal to ‘friend’ the plaintiff in an ongoing case. The defense attorneys wanted pictures or information showing the plaintiff was not disabled and attempted to use video of the plaintiff wrestling his brother and cross country travel against him.
According to an article in the New Jersey Law Journal, “The OAE says the conduct violated Rules of Professional Conduct governing communications with represented parties, along with other strictures.” The defense lawyers claim they were not familiar with the ins and outs of Facebook’s privacy settings, so were unaware their firm was accessing off limits information.
The plaintiff in question upgraded his privacy settings to only allow Facebook “Friends” access to information on his Facebook page, so then the paralegal sent the plaintiff a “Friend” request. Once the plaintiff accepted the request, the paralegal and her supervising attorneys had access to a treasure trove of potentially harmful information.
The plaintiff and his attorney didn’t become aware of the Facebook access until questions about travel, nightlife and other physical activities came up at a deposition. The case involved a firefighter who was seriously injured at work, and the defense sought to discredit him with the use of information from his Facebook account, including a video of the plaintiff wrestling his brother from BEFORE the accident. The information obtained by the defense in this case was barred by the Judge for technical reasons, not because it was obtained improperly.
The lesson here is that if you have a Facebook page, you need to make sure your privacy settings do not allow the public to view your information. Do not accept “Friend” requests from someone you do not actually know. Insurance companies, prospective employers and identity thieves are utilizing the internet more than ever to find personal information, don’t make their jobs easier.
If you’re going to use social media, you must be careful about it for many reasons. Every item you post, whether it’s a picture, article or personal observation, is a reflection on you. Don’t put things on Facebook that you would not want a prospective employer or anyone else seeking to discredit you to see. This also applies to your other Facebook “Friends”. Don’t allow someone to ‘tag’ a photo that you’re in that puts you in a compromising position – if you see one, untag it and ask the person to refrain from doing this in the future.
You must be vigilant in protecting what information you put on websites such as Facebook, as this is now the first impression the outside world will have of you.
James Creegan is a Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Lawrenceville, New Jersey office concentrating his practice in Workers’ Compensation law. For questions, or to schedule a free consultaiton with Mr. Creegan, please contact him here.