The End of the “Public Profile” — When Your Facebook Status Jeopardizes Your Case

October 7, 2011

In the rapidly growing world of Social Media chances are you either have a Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter account — or someone you work with does. Social Media Websites are rapidly becoming a popular informational gathering tool used for everything from college applications to job interviews to litigation.

In a recent trial case, a lawsuit was filed alleging manufacturing defects and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act regarding a newly purchased recreational vehicle. During the case, a photo was discovered on the Plaintiffs’ MySpace account capturing the Plaintiff’s entire family posing in front of the recreational vehicle more than 300 miles from the Plaintiffs’ home. The photo was taken and posted eight months after the claim was filed alleging the vehicle unusable. The photo was one of the most critical pieces of evidence in the case. The jury took less than 15 minutes to find against the Plaintiff.

During a recent deposition in a case dealing with the alleged taking of trade secret information from a large oil and gas company, a key witness presented himself as a person of “honor, integrity and fairness” in dealing with people and business situations. A quotation taken from the witness’s Facebook page stating “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying” was presented potentially discrediting the demeanor of the witness.

These examples support the need to closely monitor Social Media; especially true for companies or individuals that have the potential to face litigation. One of the first steps is to ensure Social Media profile pages are set to the highest degree of privacy possible limiting access to your information to only individuals you “approve”. This can be accomplished by following a few quick steps depending on your particular Social Media Website. A simple Google search like “How to make my Facebook profile private” will walk you through the process. If you didn’t know your profile could be set to private, or you haven’t yet taken these steps, your information is wide open to the public.

In addition to monitoring the information on your social media page, you should also periodically conduct a Google/Yahoo/Bing search to see what a random search of your name will turn up on the Internet. You may find there are one or more Websites out there you didn’t even know about which contain your personal information.

With Social Media, information often thought to be private can be alarmingly available for public consumption or discovery. Take action now to ensure your privacy by limiting access to your profile to those you trust and continually monitoring your Web presence to avoid unfortunate surprises where you find your private life on full display.