In the fall of 2011, you could hear buzz in court rooms, the internet and cubicles around the world regarding a decision handed down by the New York Appeals court addressing Facebook, social media, and privacy.
The Appellate Division, First Department, said that Turner Construction Company was not entitled to all of the Facebook records of Plaintiff Russell Patterson. Patterson brought a personal injury case against the company.
Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Oingin his ruling felt that case should be remanded back to his court room for”more specific identification of plaintiff’s Facebook information that is relevant, in that it contradicts or conflicts with plaintiff’s alleged restrictions, disabilities, and losses, and other claims.”
This case like many other cases throughout the United States describes the role in which social media are playing in litigation. In the early days of the internet password-protected information was regarded as just that protected information to a certain degree within the legal community. However, in the buzz of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus; attorneys have found a new way to finding evidence that the opposing side made allegations that are untrue. In this buzz court have felt the pressure to grant greater access to previously private data that could contradict what is claimed in pleadings or petitions.
Rulings like this one may make some people think the information that is shared on site such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus is gaining its privacy status back. However, that is far from the truth. Rulings such as this one, tells us three things. First, as legal professionals, when we are preparing discovery, we must know that what we are requesting access to have a real life relevance to the case that our attorneys are working. Secondly, we must realize that the internet is not private and is forever. Thirdly, the only time an owner of a social media account has control over his or her thoughts is when he or she decides to share his or her thoughts. Once a person shares a thought on the internet the level of privacy in my opinion lessens with every post or repost. The blame for the invasion of privacy should not be pointed towards the social media sites. The blame lays with users of the sites and what they share regardless of the level of presumed privacy provide or proclaimed by those sites.
As a ligation paralegal this ruling tells me that my job of preparing discovery requests and subpoenas just became little more complex. It is no longer as simple as asking you shall receive.