The Law's Questionable Protection of Private Information on Social-Media Sites

Do you think your private postings to friends on social-media sites is protected by the law? Most courts considering that issue have declared that a litigant has the right to look for photos and statements that contradict what an opponent is saying in court. Facebook, for example, is a huge social-media site. Founded by a guy named Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, it is used by someone in most families in the U.S. It has become so widespread that it spawned the revolution in Egypt. With that kind of membership, it's no wonder that lawyers are attempting to mine the data to see if there are tidbits of information that will help clients destroy their opponents' credibility.

A case in point was decided by a New York Supreme Court judge. A woman claimed she fell off a chair that had been defectively designed and built and had suffered serious and permanent injuries. The manufacturer's lawyer found that she regularly posted on MySpace smiley faces, suggesting that she was happy. He then checked Facebook and found that the woman's daughter had posted on Facebook statements and photos indicating that the family had traveled to Florida. Why was that important? Because it contradicted the woman's claim that she was homebound due to her injuries.

Based on the postings the lawyer was able to find, the judge allowed him to access the private portions of her Facebook and MySpace pages. His rationale was that plaintiffs who place their physical condition in controversy may not shield from disclosure material which is necessary to defend against the claim.

In another case out of Pennsylvania, a judge declared that it would be unrealistic for a person using Facebook and MySpace to consider postings to be confidential. Although not all courts see things this way, these rulings, which seem to express the trend in courts in this country, fit the general rule of law that any information relevant to the issues in a case is discoverable by the parties in a case.

So be careful about what you publish on social media sites. Postings that you thought would be private will probably not be protected by the law. This is probably a good thing, because honesty and openness will be promoted.

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