New York Appellate Court Allows “Data Mining” of Social Media accounts for Relevant Information

By John Patzakis

The New York Appellate Division allowed discovery into the non-public information of the social media accounts of a former professional basketball player relevant to his personal injury claims arising out of an automobile accident. In Vasquez-Santos v. Mathew 2019 NY Slip Op 00541 (January 24, 2019), the court held that the defendant may utilize the services of a “data mining” company for a widespread search of the plaintiff’s devices, email accounts, and social media.social-media-cases3

Vasquez-Santos is an extension of a large body of court decisions that allow discovery of a user’s “private” social media messages, posts and photos where that information is reasonably calculated to contain evidence material and necessary to the litigation. Private social media information can be discoverable to the extent it “contradicts or conflicts with [a] plaintiff’s alleged restrictions, disabilities, and losses, and other claims” according the Vasquez-Santos Court.

The Court found that the defendant “is entitled to discovery to….defend against plaintiff’s claims of injury,” and noted that the requested access to plaintiff’s accounts and devices “was appropriately limited in time, i.e., only those items posted or sent after the accident, and in subject matter, i.e., those items discussing or showing defendant engaging in basketball or other similar physical activities.”

Also noteworthy was the Court’s finding that while plaintiff did not take the pictures himself, that was of no import to the decision. He was “tagged,” thus allowing him access to the pictures, and thus populated his social media account.

This decision is consistent with the general rule that while social media is clearly discoverable, there must be a requisite showing of relevance before the court moves to compel full production of a litigant’s “private” social media.

This case illustrates that any solution purporting to support eDiscovery for social media must have robust public search and collection capabilities. This means more than merely one-off screen scrapes but instead an ability to search, identify and capture up to thousands of social media posts on an automated and scalable basis.

X1 Social Discovery has the ability to find an individual’s publicly available content and to collect it in an automated fashion in native format with all available metadata intact to enable systematic and scalable search, review, tagging and analysis. We heard from one major law firm that screen captures of a single public Facebook account took several hours, with the resulting images not searchable or organized into a case-centric workflow. Now with X1 Social Discovery, they are able to accomplish this full capture in seconds. This is critically important to conduct proper due diligence on a case and to better assist legal and investigative professionals to make the requisite showings for the full discovery of social media evidence in civil discovery, as in Vasquez-Santos.

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Filed under Best Practices, Case Law, Case Study, eDiscovery, law firm, Social Media Investigations

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