In today’s wired society, social media is everywhere. The vast majority of people now have social media accounts of at least one type, even dogs, hats, places, and things have their own social media accounts. It has become normal to post everything you do, what you ate, photos, opinions, and more on social media accounts – and for the most part, there is nothing wrong with that. However, when it comes to any type of legal proceeding that you may be involved in, it can spell major problems. We have seen it starting to happen over and over again, where someone posts on a social media site about a case and everything is suddenly stopped, judges dismiss cases, or worse – large amounts of money rightfully won, are suddenly stripped away.
Consider the case of Patrick Snay, who filed an age discrimination case against his former employer in November of 2011. After going through the proper channels, the case was settled. In the settlement agreement, there was a confidentiality clause, which prohibited either party from talking about the case to anyone. While this is a normal agreement in the course of settlement cases, it can only take one small bit of a leak about the case to overturn a ruling or to get the entire settlement tossed out. In this particular case, a social media post from Mr. Snay’s daughter made its way back to the attorneys for the employer, who then filed an appeal immediately. Her post on Facebook read: “Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.”
For Mr. Snay, this post meant that his settlement was tossed out by a judge since the confidentiality agreement was broken. Mr. Snay and his attorneys argued that they understood the agreement, however, they had to tell the family something since the family knew that Mr. Snay had been in mediation over the case. They argued that they had to share the news with their daughter due to the fact that she had been suffering from “psychological scars” from her time at that particular school where her father had worked. While Mr. Snay can refile his case, the odds of him winning any of his money back are extremely slim.
Here is where the problem lies: Facebook, and other social media outlets, are considered public forums, even if you have an account set to private. Anything that is shared there becomes public knowledge. When his daughter posted her comments about the resolution of the case on Facebook, her post became public. Her Facebook “friends” then had access to the outcome of the case. Many of those friends were students (both current and former) at the school where her father had worked. The same school he eventually sued. In this circumstance, it did not take long for the daughter’s post to reach the eyes and ears of the attorneys involved.
Of course, this is not the only case out there where social media has caused problems with the proceedings. It may be tempting to post about a case that you are involved in, especially if you have a lot of friends and family asking how the case is going or whether it has been resolved. However, the best advice when it comes to social media when you’re involved in any legal proceeding is to not disclose anything on any type of social media. It can, and will, get back to opposing counsel and could cost you your entire case. Be discreet when speaking to friends and family about a case, especially if there is any type of confidentiality clause or other prohibition from discussing the case outside of the courtroom or your attorney’s offices.
Speak with friends and family privately and be sure to keep your postings off of Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media outlet.
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