The biggest piece of advice that I can give to a client is to refrain from social media when you are involved in litigation. Be it a criminal case, a divorce, a restraining order – no matter what type of case, the best bet is always to stay silent. Clients are often surprised by this advice or assure me that they only share their information with their “friends” through security settings. I am frequently asked by clients if social media accounts are monitored by the Commonwealth during the pendency of a case (ie while waiting for trial). Bottom line, I wanted to take a moment to explain why social media and legal action, can go hand in hand.
You Do Have a Right
We live in a world where there are so many ways to speak our mind to those around us. Facebook,Twitter, Instagram – I am sure there are more than I can list here! It is common to want to vent when you feel you have been wrongly harmed, when you are sad, when you need to share emotions. It is our nature to want to tell others what has happened in our daily lives or to seek support when we are stressed. With the advent of social media, it has become easier to share our stories, good and bad, with our friends and acquaintances. The problem is, when we share this information, we are often sharing it with more than those we planned. We are often sharing it with the world. People tell me “well, I have a right to free speech!” Yes, you do. Yes, you can exercise it. Just know that once you put your free speech out on social media, you can’t take it back. It’s as simple as that.
Social Media and Legal Action
Using social media to share details of your arrest, or any aspect of the charge, can harm your case. You do not know who may happen to read your page and share the details with someone else. A simple statement can have a profound effect on the outcome of your sentence. Take this example: A man is arrested for breaking into a car in a neighborhood one night. While he is out on bail, he posts on his social media page about how he is always being targeted by the police because of where he lives. While he is commenting back and forth with his friends on the page, they chat about another evening when they went out with friends to a local bar and how much fun they had. Someone reading the page recalls several cars that were broken into at the parking lot that evening and reports the information and the social media page to the police. This, coupled with more evidence, is enough for more arrests.
Criminal and Civil
Talking about your divorce on social media is also a very big “no no.” Sure, you may not be “friends” with your soon-to-be ex-husband, but chances are there are still friends that each of you have in common on social media. Once the information is out there, all those that are still connected to you can see what is on your page. Here’s a difficult example of how that can hurt you: father fights and fights for rights to have weekend parenting time with the kids despite mother’s concerns about his drinking alcohol in the presence of the children. During one of his parenting weekends, he leaves the children with his parents (their grandparents) for a few hours, goes out to a party and enjoys adult beverages. His friend takes and posts several pictures at the party, tagging him and thereby posting the pictures on his page. His wife then tries to argue in Court that he not only shirked his parenting duties to go out and party, but when he arrive back home, he was in no share to care for the children when their grandparents left the house. If the Court had any suspicion about father’s use of alcohol, it’s hard to deny with photos of him on social media looking rather intoxicated.
Just Because It’s Your Right Doesn’t Mean You Should
Err on the side of caution always with social media. Do not post about your case at all. Do not post about the process at all. Don’t make negative comments about the police or the district attorney. Post pictures of your dogs. Post pictures of the flowers in your yard. Post a poem. Stay away from anything having to do with your case and you will not have to worry that what you’ve posted is going to hurt you. As I tell my clients, when it doubt, don’t say it and don’t post it. Once it’s up there, you may be able to remove it but not before the world has a chance to see it, and to print it or memorialize it in some way for the future to use in litigation.
Have other questions about social media. Contact me HERE to discuss your concern.