Social media is everywhere these days, and every day more and more people are signing up. In fact, these sites are changing the way people communicate and share information. Much like the invention of email, and the telephone before that, social media is a part of our lives that is probably here to stay. Recently, Mashable reported that Facebook garnered more than 1 trillion page views per month in June and July of 2011. Facebook received approximately 870 million unique visitors in June and 860 million in July. Each visitor averaged approximately 1,160 page views and 40 per visit, with the average time spent on the site at around 25 minutes per user. Just imagine what these numbers could be like in 5 or 10 more years.
In the next few years, social media sites may be as popular as email is today, and I expect to see less people using email in favor of communicating through social media sites (like Facebook Messages). If you don’t agree, ask someone under the age of 25 years old if they use email. Because so many of our friends and clients use Facebook, Earle & Smith has had a Facebook page for the past couple of years. Although many law firms are reluctant to be on Facebook, if our clients and friends are using Facebook, why shouldn’t we? On our Facebook page we try to have conversations about driving safety, insurance issues, the law, and share information useful to our readers.
However, there are some things to be aware of when using Facebook. Most importantly, keep in mind that it really is a public place. Even if you have the most restrictive privacy settings, it’s a good idea not to post anything that you don’t want to be public. It’s also a good idea to remember that if you have a pending legal matter like a divorce or personal injury case, what you post on social media sites may be used against you. This is a controversial and unsettled area of the law, so it’s a good idea to exercise caution while using social media sites because it’s certainly possible that an attorney may subpoena information about your social media profile. At the very least, if your privacy settings allow your posts to be public, an attorney can easily view your posts or photographs and potentially find information to use against you in your legal matter.
Because of this possibility, we urge our clients to check the privacy settings for their profiles to make sure that only friends can see what is posted, especially photographs (In the New York case of Romano v. Steelcase, the defense attorneys in a personal injury case argued they were suspicious of the plaintiff’s claims that she was bedridden because her Facebook profile photo showed her standing in front of her home. See Eric Turkewitz’ blog on this topic for more legal analysis). At a minimum, do not post anything to your profile that discusses your lawsuit or your injuries. It is also a good idea to be skeptical of friend requests from strangers while your claim is pending to prevent other parties from trying to get information from your profile that could be used against you.
Simply put, your options are to either be more careful or quit using social media completely. If you’re hooked on social media, then just remember not to post anything about yourself that you wouldn’t want to see in the newspaper (for our younger readers, newspapers were made of paper and read by a lot of people to get the news). Use good common sense, and you should be fine. See you on Facebook.