Time and time again we are told to be careful of what we post on our social media accounts. Usually this is for employment or privacy reasons, but our Twitters and Facebooks can have repercussions if we are personally involved in any legal proceedings too. Photographs, statuses, and other posts have already been used by courts in family law and other cases.
For example, our courts have allowed evidence from social media accounts to prove economic hardship in divorce and family disputes. In a recent case, the New Jersey Supreme Court used photos from a party’s MySpace page to refute his claim that his income was only $21,000. The photos, including those of an “elaborate, tropical wedding, diamond engagement [ring], and wedding bands and him throwing $100 bills,” plus pictures of his successful tattoo business, indicated a lavish lifestyle beyond his stated means. Despite his argument that the wedding was paid for by “other people,” the court used the pictures as evidence that his income was in excess of $250,000, or at a minimum, well beyond the $21,000 he claimed. The court used its conclusion to determine the amount of alimony payments. A court could also use potentially use pictures in posts as a way to determine whose care is in the best interest of the child. They can show a parent’s character, emotional state, or parenting philosophy.
Courts have already used social media in personal injury cases as well. In a similar situation, a plaintiff’s social media photos and posts indicated his disability was not as severe as he claimed. The court also negatively viewed the Plaintiff’s attempt to delete his accounts and considered it in the case.
The moral of these stories is to be extremely careful with what you post through social media when you are involved in a case or potential case – before, during and after. It is impossible to know what a judge or a jury may find relevant and telling in a case. Social media is intended to be an expression and a reflection of our lifestyles-exactly why it is such good evidence in court. With the assistance of Angela Yu, Rutgers School of Law & Rutgers Business School.