“BUT I HAVE THE RIGHT TO SAY WHATEVER I WANT…”
That common thought is often followed by some pretty unpleasant consequences.
In today's digital world, we often get caught up in the habit of posting about everything, even the seemingly mundane and inconsequential parts of our lives. After all, if it's not in Facebook, did it really even happen?
That combined with our often dangerously misunderstood idea of free speech makes it easy to see how we as a society have such trouble in determining what we should, and better yet, should not, post on social media.
It's worth at least pausing to evaluate before posting though. According to a 2017 study by Career Builder, 70% of employers look at social media profiles before making hiring decisions. Also, according to US News, 35% of college admissions officers view applicants' social media profiles.
So why does this matter?
Because what we put on the internet today is there to stay. And the people who might end up making important decisions in your life are looking at it.
Let me give you an example from my line of work…
One of the first things I do whenever I get a new case is check the social media profiles of all the people involved. This practice has really helped me out a few times. In one particular case, I followed my usual protocol and had checked out everyone involved on social media.
We ended up getting to a settlement conference, which is an opportunity for the parties to resolve the matter before going to court.
Well, the other side was going on and on about this witness they had who would blow the case wide open, so to speak. They kept emphasizing how credible this person was and how this person had information that would be detrimental to my client's case.
As it turned out, I knew a little about this witness already thanks to my social media check. So I showed the mediator this witness's social media profile picture.
It was a picture of him smoking a joint. Right there…as his profile picture.
Of course I showed it to the mediator, and needless to say, their argument was shot and the matter resolved heavily in my client's favor.
Now that's a drastic example. Most of us know better (hopefully) than to put a picture of ourselves doing something that is unprofessional at best and illegal on top of that as our profile picture, but that doesn't mean we can assume everything we are posting is okay.
It happens all the time in the lawsuits that a person's seemingly innocent Facebook post provides evidence that is very damaging to a case (or beneficial…depending on the side you are on).
For example, after a car accident, it is very common for someone to ask for prayers or to let their friends know they are fine, often with a picture of the collision.
Imagine the string of comments and responses to those comments that follow. The person involved in the accident could say something to the effect of “I just looked down at my phone for a second and before I knew it the other guy had pulled out in front of me. Please, friends, don't look at your phone while driving!”
In this case, the person had just admitted some negligence — looking down at the phone instead of paying attention — that could be used by the other side to argue that she is partially at fault. And all she was trying to do was warn her friends not to make the same mistake she did.
This is an example of why I tell my clients to stay off of or lay low on social media following an accident.
UNFORTUNATELY, THIS DOES NOT JUST APPLY TO PEOPLE WHO ARE ACTIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
Even people who aren't even on social media could be affected.
Imagine you are at a wedding a few weeks after a car accident. Maybe you are still in a lot of pain from the accident and are still in fact receiving medical treatment. Perhaps you struggle through the night trying to have an enjoyable time for the newlyweds but feeling your injury with every move. Say you get up only one single time to dance for the YMCA. In that one 3 minute span, you could have multiple pictures taken of you, even without your knowledge, and posted on Facebook. With the extremely advanced facial recognition software out there, the people posting do not even have to tag you intentionally for Facebook to recognize and tag you in the picture, seemingly happy with your hands thrown up in a big “Y”.
And now there is evidence that could be used against you to argue that your injuries are not as bad as you claim, or worse, that you are intentionally lying and are not a credible source.
WE ARE ALL SUBJECT TO THE CONSEQUENCES OF SOCIAL MEDIA, EVEN IF WE ARE NOT ACTIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
So what can you do?
- Be very mindful of what you put on social media – pictures, videos, even comments.
- Don't assume that your privacy settings will protect you. Attorneys can issue a subpoena to retrieve information from social media sites, even information that has been deleted.
- Don't assume that what you do is not on social media simply because you did not post about it. Remember, other people can be posting direct pictures of you or even pictures with you in the background, and those could be used against you in a legal matter.
- Remember that what you post today could come back to haunt in the future.
This applies to all of us, but the population I am most worried about is teens.
At this point in their lives, they are consumed by social media, but they do not yet have a grasp on the implications of what they are doing online today.
THEY JUST THINK THEY ARE HAVING FUN, OR EVEN EXERCISING THEIR FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH.
But in fact, they are actually creating a digital record that will stick with them for as long as we have the internet.
But you know ten years from now, they may be applying for a very important job, or a very competitive graduate school, or perhaps even political office many years further down the road.
And it would be a shame for a silly post from their teenage years to be the deciding factor in whether they get that position.
We have seen in current events many instances of something a prominent person being burned by something they did decades ago in their more carefree youth…and that was before the internet even existed.
So the bottom line is this…we as adults need to be careful of what we put on the internet. We should make it a habit to pause before posting and ask ourselves if there is any way that post could be used against us now or in the future. But we also need to take an active role in teaching our young kids and teenagers to do the same, because what we put on the internet is there to stay. And it can and will be used against us if it ever becomes necessary evidence.