Facebook: Crossing over into the world of litigation

The world has never been the same since the launch of Facebook in 2004. The popular social media platform that has over 1.4 billion global subscribers as of March 2015 has connected us all in ways never before seen.

Individuals in all walks of life are able to share their ideas, photos and videos with family and friends. Thanks to Facebook, people today can connect in groups, discuss and collaborate on hot topics.

But, there have been some unintended consequences of its use, particularly when it comes to the world of litigation. Evidence of status updates have been used as evidence against some plaintiffs in various civil lawsuits throughout the country.

Facebook evidence

The lawsuits in which such evidence is used typically involve allegations of pain and suffering. Some defense lawyers have offered pictures, videos and status updates of plaintiffs to disprove their alleged state of mind.

According to some defense attorneys, a plaintiff taking a happy selfie with her puppy or who writes a status update about her weekend rock climbing endeavor with an attached smiley face emoticon is evidence that the plaintiff isn't really suffering from "loss of enjoyment of life" or "isolation from family and friends" as claimed.

A case-in-point involves one woman who filed a civil lawsuit against a high profile company for alleged gender discrimination. The plaintiff indicated that she experienced isolation from friends as a result of the treatment she experienced while working there. The defense produced Facebook status updates from friends wishing her a happy birthday, indicating that such popularity negated her allegations of isolation.

Are status updates truly accurate reflections of real life?

However, many people argue that the information found on a person's Facebook profile does not accurately express what's really happening in their lives. Photos and status updates are a reflection of the best times in our lives not how life really is-and many veterans of the site have and do realize this.

A study published in 2014 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America seems to confirm this. The study analyzed thousands of Facebook news feeds and essentially determined that "relentless positivity is the dominant effect."

The author of another paper published in the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law concluded that Facebook users are more likely to present themselves in ways that are "attractive" so they appear "socially desirable," as opposed to status updates that show "lonely moments with the camera."

Fortunately, some judges are agreeing with this idea. In 2013, a New York magistrate limited the admissibility of a plaintiff's social media posts and essentially concurred with earlier studies about the lack of accuracy of an individual's overall attitude based on his or her status updates. The judge concluded that "a severely depressed person may have a good day or several good days and choose to post about those days and avoid posting about moods more reflective of his or her actual emotional state."

It's evident Facebook has far reaching influences. However, it remains to be seen just how much it and other social platforms will play a part in the civil court system in future years. Nevertheless, in the meantime, while this issue is being sorted out the practical take away is to be careful and selective about what you are posting to social media.