By now it is no secret that your Facebook activity can get you into trouble with the law. For instance, a man in Texas just pleaded not guilty to a charge of battery against his wife, who apparently did not “like” his Facebook status update regarding his mother’s passing. Similarly, a man in Kentucky is charged with assault during a fight which spurred from not changing the Facebook status from “single” to “in a relationship.”
It is a shame that people resort to violence over Facebook status updates. Facebook has become a huge part of our society, and we all need to accept that our Facebook activity can have adverse consequences. Since Facebook is a social media site, it is understandable that people casually browse through it and do not think twice about status updates. People usually log on to Facebook when they need a break from work, are bored in class, want to get back in touch with people, or want to kill a few minutes between meetings. Whatever the case, Facebook is commonly seen as a nice distraction where people can sit back, relax, and browse to their heart’s desire. What people need to understand is that text written on Facebook can cause trouble later if litigation ensues.
Why is this so? The rules of evidence. The rules of evidence govern litigation because it dictates what can and cannot be considered as evidence against you during a lawsuit. Parties are always arguing over what evidence should be admitted so that they can better advocate for their client. Most people do not pick up a Federal Rules of Evidence textbook and read it just for general knowledge; therefore many do not understand how electronic communication can play a huge role in a lawsuit.
Below are just some basic points to keep in mind. These are not the only points that are significant and should be considered. They are just some general suggestions to keep in mind while active on sites such as Facebook.
Relevance: The rules of evidence favor admitting evidence that is relevant to the matter at hand. This basically means that courts favor admitting evidence that shows some tendency that the disputed matter, or a particular aspect of it, was more or less probable.
Facebook status updates show a person’s mindset at a specific time. It is text which conveys thoughts, opinions, future actions etc. Therefore, in a dispute, to prove a point, one’s Facebook status is great evidence to show the relevance of something. So, in the matter referenced above with the man being charged for battery during a dispute spurred by his wife not liking his status, Facebook plays a vital role. The actual status and the showing of his wife not liking it is relevant evidence to the suit.
Electronic Communication Counts: Some people may believe that if something is written in an e-mail, on a social media site, or as a text on a phone, it is technically not a “writing” and will not be considered in court. Well folks, the rules of evidence provide a very broad definition of “writing” to include handwriting, typewriting, printing, photos, magnetic impulses, mechanical or electronic recording and other forms of data compilation. Basically, anything can be argued to be admitted as a “writing.” Therefore, any form of communication you choose can be presented in court as a writing, depicting evidence against you.
Although there are many more rules that apply and can be discussed, if people just keep these basic two points in mind, they’ll be okay. Something to always remember is that there are two sides to everything. Even though sites like Facebook are great for many reasons, there are a few reasons why they are not good. Being held liable in court over something you wrote on Facebook is one of the “not good” reasons.