In previous posts, we have discussed the impact of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. These sites are used to communicate, using words and photographs, with close and distant “friends.” Often times, this communication occurs on impulse without consideration of who may have access to the information.
Social networking communication may become discoverable in civil litigation and the client must understand this upon retaining a lawyer. To adequately protect a client and permit the client to protect him or herself, certain steps should be taken at the onset of representation. We previously discussed three ways to help the client and here are four more.
Consider using an outside service to monitor the social networking activities of a client. This may be useful for clients that are committed to continuing to use these sites very frequently. They can be useful for making sure the lawyer has knowledge of all communication the client participates in and friends whom the client has developed. It is also helpful for attorneys, or staff, who lack the knowledge, time or resources to perform such searches themselves.
It is also important to make certain the client is fully aware of the potential threat that “friends” can pose. Generally, privacy settings will allow “friends”, or other specially designated individuals, access to more private information shared by the client. The client must understand that making a person a friend is allowing such access and they should give careful thought and consideration to these issues before allowing someone such access. Requests from unknown persons should be denied. Additionally, the client must be careful what information they share with “friends” as this information can then be easily shared with other unknown individuals. A client must make sure their “friends” do not indiscriminately share the client’s private information.
Further, the client should be aware that photographs can be easily shared and can be particularly damaging. Many times a photograph of a client can be misleading because it shows a smiling face, but the photos fail to reveal the pain the client is truly experiencing. Because Facebook and other sites provide nearly effortless means to share photographs, a client must understand that any photo they post may eventually be obtained by an adversary in a lawsuit.
These are some thoughts in how a client should be made aware of the pitfalls of social networking. Next time we are going to discuss other aspects of social networking in litigation.