If you’re a family lawyer, you need to know your stuff when it comes to social media.
As of January 2014, 71 percent of adults reported using social media. This means clients don’t have the anonymity they once did. Potentially incriminating evidence can be sourced straight from publicly-visible Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter profiles. This can be the difference between winning or losing guardianship with a child. It could even be a decisive factor in a divorce mediation.
Currently, 21 states have adopted an ABA-approved amendment to Model Rule 1.1, which now includes “…a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology…”.
If your clients use social media, you should be well-versed on the different platforms. Most important, protect yourself and educate your Clients on how to do the same. This involves changing privacy settings on their online profiles and educating them about consequences that may ricochet from their online activity. Take, for example, a man who potentially breached a restraining order by liking his ex-girlfriend’s Facebook photos.
This isn’t limited to the aforementioned big three. Snapchat, Tinder, and other social venues all have the means to transmit or broadcast sensitive information.
Deleting Doesn’t Destroy Evidence
Even with supposedly impermanent media such as Snapchat, many smartphones still save each photo/video to its memory. If the content is potentially incriminating, this type of evidence could be detrimental in deciding whether someone is fit to be a parent, and may come back to haunt them in the event of a divorce.
Likewise, clicking a ‘remove’ or ‘delete’ button to take down or modify incriminating information will not necessarily destroy the evidence. Facebook’s “Download Your Info” feature is a striking reminder that everything you’ve ever said or done may never be forgotten. It’s a prime example of a permanent activity trail others can access on their own.
What You Can Do
To educate yourself and your clients, first you’ll need to be introduced to the sites and the apps, and how they all work. It’s also paramount that you not limit yourself. While apps like Pinterest may seem worlds apart from an app like Snapchat, the two strike parallels in more ways than you might think.
Free tutorials are accessible on YouTube, but it may be worth investing some time and a small amount of money into a paid instructional video library such as Lynda. Whether you learn at your own pace or you want a crash course, there are many resources available. Once you’ve wet your feet with the apps, take it a step further by experiencing each app by playing around in a test environment.
Having an expanded breadth of knowledge and sufficient experience using social media platforms will allow you to have a better idea of what questions to ask when searching for important information and potential evidence in a case.