By John Patzakis
Global law firm Gibson Dunn has released their esteemed 2015 Mid-Year eDiscovery and Information Law Update. In a section dedicated to social media, the Gibson Dunn update reports that “the use of social media continues to proliferate in business and social contexts, and that its importance is increasing in litigation, the number of cases focusing on the discovery of social media continued to skyrocket in the first half of 2015.”
The eDiscovery update addresses key themes and several cases involving key legal issues related to social media evidence, which were previously addressed on this blog. Two key highlights cite cases affirming that mere screenshot printouts of social media evidence are not defensible and clarify overall authentication requirements in order to admit social media evidence in court.
As noted by the report “in the first half of 2015, courts continued to find that the testimony of the individual who printed a copy of a social media webpage, or prepared a memorandum summarizing information obtained from the social media account, is insufficient to authenticate social media evidence.” The report cites Linscheid v. Natus Medical Inc., 2015 WL 1470122, at *5-6 (N.D. Ga. Mar. 30, 2015) (finding LinkedIn profile page not authenticated by declaration from individual who printed the page from the Internet); Monet v. Bank of America, N.A., 2015 WL 1775219, at *8 (Cal Ct. App. Apr. 16, 2015) (finding that a “memorandum by an unnamed person about representations others made on Facebook is at least double hearsay” and not authenticated).
The Report also cited “a major shift” in case law concerning the authentication of social media evidence. The Court of Appeals of Maryland determined that “in order to authenticate evidence derived from a social networking website, the trial judge must determine that there is proof from which a reasonable juror could find that the evidence is what the proponent claims it to be.” Sublet v. State, 113 A.3d 695, 698, 718, 722 (Md. 2015) (citing U.S. v. Vayner, 769 F.3d 125 (2d Cir. 2014)). Previously in Maryland, social media evidence was admissible only if the judge was “convince[d] . . . that the social media post was not falsified or created by another user.” Griffin v. State, 19 A.3d 415 (Md. 2011).
Under Sublet, the preliminary determination of authentication is made by the trial judge and is a “context–specific determination” based on proof that “may be direct or circumstantial.” Id. at 715 (citing Vayner). The court noted that “[t]he standard articulated in Vayner … is utilized by other federal and State courts addressing authenticity of social media communications and postings.”
These cases cited by Gibson Dunn illustrate why best practices software is needed to properly collect and preserve social media evidence. Ideally, a proponent of the evidence can rely on uncontroverted direct testimony from the creator of the web page in question. In many cases, such as in the Vayner case where incriminating social media evidence is at issue, that option is not available. In such situations, the testimony of the examiner who preserved the social media or other Internet evidence “in combination with circumstantial indicia of authenticity (such as the dates and web addresses), would support a finding” that the website documents are what the proponent asserts. Perfect 10, Inc. v. Cybernet Ventures, Inc. (C.D.Cal.2002) 213 F.Supp.2d 1146, 1154. (emphasis added) (See also, Lorraine v. Markel American Insurance Company, 241 F.R.D. 534, 546 (D.Md. May 4, 2007) (citing Perfect 10, and referencing MD5 hash values as an additional element of potential “circumstantial indicia” for authentication of electronic evidence).
One of the many benefits of X1 Social Discovery is its ability to preserve and display all the available “circumstantial indicia” or “additional confirming circumstances,” in order to present the best case possible for the authenticity of social media evidence collected with the software. This includes collecting all available metadata and generating a MD5 checksum or “hash value” of the preserved data for verification of the integrity of the evidence. It is important to collect and preserve social media posts and general web pages in a thorough manner with best-practices technology specifically designed for litigation purposes. For instance, there are over twenty unique metadata fields associated with individual Facebook posts and messages. Any one of those entries, or a combination of them contrasted with other entries, can provide unique circumstantial evidence that can establish foundational proof of authorship.