Tag Archives: MySpace

Mid-Year Report: Legal Cases Involving Social Media Rapidly Increasing

As part of our ongoing effort to monitor legal developments concerning social media evidence, we again searched online legal databases of state and federal court decisions across the United States — this time to identify the number of cases in the first half of 2012 where evidence from social networking sites played a significant role. The results are available here in a detailed spreadsheet listing each case, allowing for anyone to review the cases and conduct their own analysis. The cases are accessible for free on Google Scholar.  The overall tally come in at 319 cases for this 6 month period, which is about an 85 percent increase in the number of published social media cases over the same period in 2011, as reported by our prior survey earlier this year.

As with the last survey, we reviewed all the search results and added annotations for the more notable cases, and were sure to eliminate duplicates and to not count de minimis entries — defined as cases with merely cursory or passing mentions of social media sites.  As only a very small number of cases–approximately one percent of all filed cases– involve a published decision that we can access online, it is safe to assume that several thousand, if not tens of thousands more cases involved social media evidence during this time period. Additionally, many of these published decisions involve fact patterns from as far back as 2008, as they are now just working their way through the appeals process. Finally, these cases do not reflect the presumably many thousands of more instances where social media evidence was relevant to an internal investigation or compliance audit, yet did not evolve into actual litigation. Even so, this limited survey is an important data point establishing the ubiquitous nature of social media evidence, its escalating importance and the necessity of best practices technology to search and collect this data for litigation and compliance requirements.

The search, limited to the top four social networking sites, tallied as follows: Facebook is now far in the lead with 197 cases, MySpace tallied in at 89, mostly with fact patterns circa 2009, Twitter with 25 and LinkedIn with 8. Criminal matters marked the most common category of cases involving social media evidence, followed by employment related litigation, insurance claims/personal injury, family law and general business litigation (trademark infringement/libel/unfair competition). One interesting and increasingly common theme involved social media usage being considered as a factor in establishing minimum contacts for jurisdictional purposes. (See Juniper Networks, Inc. v. JUNIPER MEDIA, LLC, and Lyons v. RIENZI & SONS, INC, as examples)

We plan on providing a complete summary for all of the 2012 cases in early January and it safe to assume that the second half of 2012 will continue to see a sharp increase in the presence of social media evidence.

> View all 2012 cases and more now

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689 Published Cases Involving Social Media Evidence (With Full Case Listing)

The torrent of social media evidence continues to grow. In November 2011 we searched online legal databases of state and federal court decisions across the United States to identify the number of cases from 2010 and through November 2011 where evidence from social networking sites played a significant role. As we mentioned then, the numbers exceeded even our high expectations. Recently, we revisited the survey with a little more detail to include results for all of 2011 to be sure we eliminated duplicate entries as well as de minimis entries — defined as cases with merely cursory or passing mentions of social media.

Under these criteria, the more exact number came up to 689 cases. Our raw data and tallying methodology is now public, with the spreadsheet available here, allowing for anyone to review the cases and provide your own analysis. The vast majority of the cases are accessible for free on Google Scholar.  About 5 percent of the listed cases are only available by subscription to Westlaw or LexisNexis.

The search, limited to the top four social networking sites, tallied as follows: MySpace (315 cases), Facebook (304), LinkedIn (39) Twitter (30). Oh, and my colleague Tod Cole insisted that I mention the lone Foursquare case. From the detailed review, a significant percentage, if not the majority of the MySpace cases involved criminal matters. Facebook mentions were trending up with MySpace  trending down as cases with more recent facts worked their way through the system.

Criminal matters marked the most common category of cases involving social media evidence, followed by employment related litigation, insurance claims/personal injury, family law and general business litigation (trademark infringement/libel/ unfair competition). As only a very small number of cases involve a published decision that we can access online, it is safe to assume that several thousand, if not tens of thousands more cases involved social media evidence during this time period. Even so, this limited survey is an important data point establishing the ubiquitous nature of social media evidence and the importance of best practices technology to search and collect this data for litigation and compliance requirements.

- VIEW ALL 689 CASES & MORE HERE >

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Facebook Spoliation Costs Lawyer $522,000; Ends His Legal Career

PenaltyIn what many are calling the largest eDiscovery sanction penalty ever leveled directly against an attorney, a Virginia state judge ordered lawyer Matthew Murray to pay $522,000 for instructing his client to remove photos from his Facebook profile, and for his client to pay an additional $180,000 for obeying the instructions. A copy of the final order in Lester v. Allied Concrete Company is available here.

If Murray had initiated a proper legal hold concerning his client’s social media evidence instead of directing blatant spoliation, he would be a lot wealthier and likely kept his job. Instead, he apparently quit his position as managing partner of the largest personal injury firm in Virginia and, according to local press reports, he no longer practices law.

The court’s findings reflect that Murray told his client to remove several photos from his Facebook account on fears that they would prejudice his wrongful death case brought after his spouse’s fatal automobile accident. One of the photos depicts the allegedly distraught widower holding a beer and wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “I [heart] hot moms.” Murray instructed his client through his assistant to “clean up” his Facebook account. “We do not want blow ups of other pics at trial,” the assistant’s email to Lester said, “so please, please clean up your Facebook and MySpace!”

This case reflects a trend we see based on anecdotal data points where a minority of legal and eDiscovery practitioners have not quite placed social media evidence on the same par as other electronic evidence. For instance, I believe it is highly unlikely that Murray would have instructed his client to delete all his emails or wipe his hard drive, but for some reason he differentiated social media evidence.

The attorneys we speak with are telling us that social media evidence is relevant to nearly every case they handle and the savvy ones are using social media evidence to win their cases. And as we recently noted, since 2010 social media evidence played a key role in 675 different cases with published decisions reflecting such involvement and in presumably tens of thousands more cases not involving published decisions. Those numbers will only increase as social media networks grow even more popular.

However, I was struck by one recent conversation where an eDiscovery consultant had not yet included social media data source in their standard investigation checklist. To be fair, there has not been best practices technology available to enable scalable, mainstream social media eDiscovery until recently, which impacts standard processes.

But just as the Virginia state court judge saw no difference between Facebook postings and other “traditional” electronically stored information, neither should anyone in the legal and investigative fields, especially since the software needed to get the job done is now available.

UPDATE: Here is copy of the previous court ruling determining sanctions were in order. The final order set the amount.

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