Can Social Media Posts Be Used as Legal Evidence?
Millions of people are now communicating via the internet today and many are freely expressing their sentiments over a lot of issues whether they’re personal or related to the issues of society.
Sometimes, there are even internet users who go to the point of bashing others and making accusations not minding that what they write online is read by a lot of people and can spread rapidly on the web. What’s worse is they are not aware that they can be held liable for what they post online.
As communication and social networking have gone digital these days, the legal professionals and law enforcement agencies have also taken into consideration the use of digital files as evidences. In 2013, law enforcers in the U.S. were able to track and solve numerous crimes using social media.
Social Media Use in Crime Investigations
One case was that of Vincent Franklin who has been charged with double murder for the killing of his mother and stepfather in Buncombe County, North Carolina. Through his Facebook posts, Franklin was linked to the murders including that of his girlfriend Cheyenne Van Treese with whom he “had wrath.” Detectives then issued a search warrant and upon checking of Franklin’s Facebook activities found that he killed his girlfriend before killing his parents. The woman’s body was discovered a month after she was reported missing just before Franklin’s parents were murdered.
In Halmstad, Sweden, two teen girls were traced to a robbery that took place at a burger joint. The two young ladies took nearly $400 from their victims whom they threatened with a kitchen knife.
Their selfie photo posted on Facebook before the robbery that showed them wearing black-stocking masks and hoodies with one holding a knife was used by police to track them down.
A survey by Lexis-Nexis Risk Solutions covering 1,221 federal, state and local law enforcement officials has confirmed the use of social media in solving crimes. It showed that four out of five law enforcers check social media with Facebook as their top choice followed by YouTube.
Social Media Posts as Legal Evidence
Lawyers today also use social media as a source of evidence notably in the areas of criminal, personal injury, employment and family law. DUI defense lawyer Daniel Perlman confirmed that social media is a very helpful tool in solving cases. He added that data from social media platforms can be saved similar to other forms of electronically stored information (ESI).
It is the duty of parties involved to preserve evidence which they find to be relevant in their cases. This should be stated in the litigation-hold notice after which parties can preserve data from social media in the method they prefer.
For Facebook, the method of preserving data is through the “download your info” link. A person’s details from his or her Timeline information, posts, messages and photos will then download in a zip file. Other information can be obtained as well such as the IP address of the Facebook user and ads that he or she has clicked.
It is also possible to download tweets on Twitter notably those posted to an account. This can be done by requesting a copy of the user’s Twitter archive.
Indeed with the existence of social media sites, lawyers and police investigators have more avenues to look for evidences in order to solve cases sooner than later.