The Intersection of Social Media and The Law

The distribution of information has come a long way in 20 years. The majority of adults now rely on the internet as their primary source of news and information. The last 5 years has seen a huge increase of users of social media. But, be careful out there. The social media world can be a dangerous place.

The majority of social media users engage in social media for personal use and enjoyment, and socialization. But, there are also a large number of social media users who engage in social media for professional purposes to advertise or market their own products or services. There are also a large number of social media users who engage in social media for both personal and professional reasons.

Social Media, especially Facebook, has become more prevalent than ever in legal matters. How many different areas of law have the potential to intersect with social media? The better question may be how many areas of the law do not intersect with some form of social media.

Family Law

Every family law case I have handled since Myspace and other forms of social media came along has involved a social media website in some form or fashion. The reason is simple. We have become a society that loves dirty laundry. Whether it is tabloid magazines or newspapers or tabloid TV shows or Facebook or Twitter or any other media, you must be very careful about what you put out there about yourself. All too often clients are surprised to see their own Facebook or Twitter postings being used as fodder against them in a hearing or trial. Just because you find something humorous does not mean that you should share it with your social media connections. Not every one of your social media connections needs to know about your political thoughts, the jokes you find humorous, what you ate for dinner or where you celebrated your birthday. If something is inappropriate for a 5 year old, then you probably shouldn’t share on your social media sites, especially if you are involved in ongoing divorce or child custody litigation. You can guarantee that anything that is unflattering that you or a friend or connection posted to a social media page will be used against you in an attempt to make you look bad and hurt your credibility with the court. And, don’t forget about those unflattering photographs. Those will be used against you, too. I know. I have used them against opposing parties many times.

Criminal Law

What is true for family law and social media is true for criminal law and social media. You can count on your on-line activities being used against you in court. One of the most prosecuted crimes today is on-line solicitation. This type of crime has increased more than any other offense over the course of the last 5 years. A big reason for that increase is the advancement of social media. Police officers often pose as minor’s to entice sexual predators into engaging in a criminal act. Be very, very careful with what you say and what you post on social media. You may simply be helping the State make a case against you. And, you surely do not want to be a victim or the parent of a victim simply because you failed to properly monitor a child’s on-line activities or failed to use good judgment in your own on-line activities.

Employment Law

Yes. Your employer is watching you. You must be careful with what you post about your job, co-workers, supervisors or anyone else in the workplace. It could result in termination, employment probation, reprimand, an EEOC complaint or worse; a lawsuit.

Estate Planning

You should probably go ahead and include the management of your social media pages in your estate plan. Someone is going to need access to your social media sites to control your information after you are deceased the same way you will need someone as your General Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney or Independent Administrator of your estate. Plan carefully, and don’t forget about your social media.

Business Litigation

Watch what you post about your business partners or colleagues. It can come back to haunt you. Those unflattering comments or posts that you make about certain people in your business circles may use those items against you if you end up in court over a business dispute. If isn’t appropriate for personal conversations, it probably isn’t appropriate for the internet either. You have a filter for the distribution of information and you should use it appropriately.

If you are self-employed, in sales, or provide professional services, there are numerous reasons why you should use social media. Last time I checked advertising isn’t free. But, your on-line presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites may very well drive business your way. But, be careful. Most professionals have certain ethical rules that must be followed in issues involving advertising, including your on-line presence on social media sites. It may be best to separate your business and personal accounts on these sites, but then you have the issue of trying to juggle twice as many social media sites and you find yourself wondering how can I possibly find time to juggle twice the number of social media sites when you can’t even find time to fully engage in the three or four sites you normally use for personal reasons. In the same way that you must be careful using social media and watching out for an intersection with an area of law, you must be very conscientious about the perception others have of you based on your on-line presence. You should probably keep your posts regarding politics, religion and other sensitive matters to a bare minimum.

We seem to be living our whole lives on-line where anybody can see and hear about where we are and what we are doing at any given time. Good or bad, it is unlikely that this will change anytime soon. So, protect yourself, and be very, very careful out there. The social media world can be a dangerous place.

Hammerle Finley Law Firm. Give us a call. We can help.

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The information contained in this article is general information only and does not constitute legal advice.