The distinct legal implications of social media

January 5, 2014 • Local News

Steve Wolfe
Roswell SAFE Coalition

Social networking is a great method of connecting with friends and family. It was for a long while a thing that the “kids” did, but has now grown in its use to a huge segment of our society. I do use Facebook, not only personally, but in other organizations I’m involved with as well. (I don’t “tweet” yet, but I’m sure I will.) Although it began as a fun thing, social networks have now become an important tool in advertising and awareness plans of all kinds.

It is important for us, however, to recognize that there are legal implications involved in all of these networks. When you post online, a digital trail of information is left behind which can, in fact, be used in court. The newsletter I recently received from the LegalShield organization specifies some of these.
We are all aware of the term attorney-client privilege, which in essence [auth] prohibits information communicated directly to your attorney from being used against you in court. Talking about your legal matter online becomes a breach of that protection and may seriously harm your case. Facebook is not a place to talk about legal matters!

Another suggestion related to the legal risks of social media is that we should “take a break” from Facebook and other similar media during a divorce or custody dispute. No matter what your intention may have been when you posted a comment online, consider how it may come back to haunt you in a family law situation. And the same thing goes for Criminal Law cases. We are told that researching social networks is becoming more and more common in criminal case investigations.

In the recent past, we have seen major politicians’ careers most likely ruined and young people’s lives turned upside down where they apparently assumed that what they were posting would be private and anonymous. There is no such thing as anonymity in the world of social networking! If you took a picture of some part of your body at age 25, you should hope it looks the same at age 45, because it may very well show up! There is also a thing called “sexting,” which involves suggestive pictures and language, and which has caused even teenagers to be labeled as sex offenders. All of these things last forever in cyberspace.

One of the more insidious aspects of social media is the information which can be obtained by child predators who may use it to exploit children over the internet. Additionally, online bullying, sometimes called “cyberbullying,” has also grown rapidly in recent years. It is critical that we as parents pay attention to what our kids are doing on the internet and that they are taught about bullying, both in reporting it and in not participating in the bullying of other children.

My LegalShield newsletter suggests two more legal dangers of social networking. The first is the increased usage of those media by human resources organizations. Applicants should be aware that information gained could be used in hiring purposes, although employers must be careful that it not be used to unlawfully discriminate based on age, gender, race, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. Additionally, employees must understand that what they say about fellow workers or employers could cost them their job.
And finally, think carefully about the information you post online, understanding its huge potential value to thieves and scammers. While your postings may seem harmless, they may be used against you. Many of these columns I have written have talked about identity theft and scams. When we “tweet” or when we “post,” we may be unknowingly providing vital and useful opportunities to these crooks.

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