Tag Archives: social media evidence

Police Embrace Social Media as Crime-Fighting Tool (CNN Article)

Recently, CNN published an article illustrating how law enforcement agencies are using social media to help solve their cases.  CNN reporter Heather Kelly, states, socialpolice“leveraging Facebook is just one of many ways law enforcement officials are gleaning evidence from social media to help them solve crimes.”  According to a recent survey performed by LexisNexis on federal, state and local law enforcement officials who use social media, 4 of 5 used social media to gather evidence during investigations. Kelly states, “Half said they checked social media at least once a week, and the majority said social media helps them solve crimes faster.”

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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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Surging Wage and Hour Class Action Suits and the Importance of Social Media Evidence

Wage and hour class action suits are rising dramatically. According to the USA Today, Plaintiffs filed 7,006 federal court wage-and-hour suits in 2011, many of them class actions, nearly quadruple the 2000 total. Many of these suits involve claims of misclassifying employees as exempt from overtime, especially salespersons and temporary professional employees. Additionally, these claims involve allegations of non-exempt employees being required to work off hours through the use of mobile devices, webmail and social media.  As such, social media evidence is playing an important role in the litigation of wage and hour claims on multiple levels.

As one recent example, a federal court in the Northern District of California earlier this month imposed monetary sanctions of nearly $16,000 and disqualified the lead plaintiff as the class representative in a wage and hour class action for failing to disclose relevant Facebook evidence. In Calvert v. Red Robin International, the lead plaintiff proved to be very active on Facebook, using the site to communicate with other claimants and to recruit potential plaintiffs into the class. The plaintiff and his lawyers failed to disclose this evidence, which the defendant’s law firm ultimately obtained through their own diligent investigation efforts. Such disqualifications and monetary sanctions against the lead plaintiff can prove to be important tactical victories in cases such as these.

Calvert is just one of many recent wage and hour cases that we have seen where social media has played a critical role. For instance, our customers have recently reported successfully using X1 Social Discovery in wage and hour claims, including, for example, to collect Linkedin and Facebook evidence that contradicted Plaintiffs claims that they were non-exempt employees. In addition to this customer use example and the case of Calvert v. Red Robin International, there are numerous other scenarios where the search and collection of social media evidence can be essential to the litigation of wage and hour cases, highlighting the importance of best practices technology to diligently represent your clients’ interests.

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Social Media Case Law Update: Volume of Cases Accelerating

Recently our survey of published case law from 2010 and 2011 identified 689 cases involving social media evidence for that time period.  While these results exceeded our expectations, that pace is actually rapidly accelerating in 2012. For this past April alone, a quick tally identifies 61 cases where social media evidence played a key role. We will have a mid-year report in a few months, but it appears that the volume of cases has about doubled year over year. Keep in mind that the survey group only involves published cases on Westlaw. With less than one percent of total cases resulting in published opinions, and considering this data set does not take into account internal or compliance investigations or non-filed criminal cases, we can safely assume that there were tens of thousands more legal matters involving social media evidence that were adjudicated or otherwise resolved in April 2012.

The following are brief synopses of three of the more notable social media cases from April:

Blandv. Roberts, 2012 WL 1428198 (E.D.  VA, Apr. 24, 2012)  

This case is notable in that it extensively litigated the implications of “liking” specific items on Facebook.  In this situation the Hampton, Virginia Sheriff’s Office employed Bland and his co-workers, under Sheriff B.J.  Roberts. Roberts faced a contested election and Bland and his cohorts backed the challenger Jim Adams, going so far as to “like” Adam’s Facebook page. As it turned out, the plaintiffs “liked” the wrong horse. Roberts won the election, and he subsequently fired Bland and the other Adams-backers. The Sheriff justified the terminations on cost-cutting grounds, but plaintiffs argued that their termination violated their First Amendment rights, as Roberts was aware that the plaintiffs’ “liked” Adam’s Facebook page, which plaintiff’s asserted to be protected speech. The court ultimately determined that “merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection and thus the termination was lawful.

From our perspective, the ultimate outcome of Bland v. Roberts is not so much the point as is plaintiffs’ subtle activity on Facebook representing substantive facts of the case.  The act of liking a Facebook entry can be an important piece of evidence in a wide variety of litigation and investigation scenarios. Just to identify a few possible examples, it can constitute evidence toward a party’s knowledge of a particular fact, or the extent of trademark infringement or publication of defamatory material, or identify relevant witnesses in a case. This case illustrates why it is important to collect and preserve all available information on Facebook and other social media sites in a thorough manner with best-practices technology specifically designed for litigation purposes.

People v. Harris, 2012 WL 1381238 (N.Y. Crim. Ct. Apr. 20, 2012)

In this case, the defendant faced charges of disorderly conduct after marching onto the Brooklyn Bridge as a participant in the Occupy Wall Street protests.  The New York District Attorney’s Office subpoenaed Twitter, Inc., seeking user information and Tweets from a particular time period for the Twitter account @destructuremal—the account allegedly used by the defendant.  The defendant filed a motion to quash the subpoena.

In denying the defendant’s motion, the court relied heavily on the public nature of Twitter and its terms of service, which establish that users have no expectation of privacy and no proprietary interest in their Tweets. The court noted that the terms of service state that by submitting a post or displaying content, a user has granted Twitter “a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).”  Thus, the court reasoned, “defendant’s inability to preclude Twitter’s use of his Tweets demonstrates a lack of proprietary interest” in them.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s privacy rights, the court again relied on Twitter’s Terms of Service, which clearly inform users that their information will be viewable by others and which specifically state that “[w]hat you say on Twitter may be viewed all around the world instantly … [t]his license is you authorizing us to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same.”

Loporcaro v. City of New York and Perfetto Contracting Company,  35 Misc.3d 1209(A), (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Apr. 9, 2012)

This is yet another serious personal injury claim where the claimant’s public Facebook postings contradicted their assertions of serious injury. Plaintiff claimed permanent disability from two knee injuries while on the job as a firefighter, seeking redress against Perfetto Contracting Company, Inc., alleging defective road conditions caused his injury. However, his public Facebook postings suggested that he continued to maintain an active lifestyle. This prompted the court to grant the defense’s motion to compel production of the Plaintiff’s full Facebook account, ruling as follows:

“When a person creates a Facebook account, he or she may be found to have consented to the possibility that personal information might be shared with others, notwithstanding his or her privacy settings, as there is no guarantee that the pictures and information posted thereon, whether personal or not, will not be further broadcast and made available to other members of the public. Clearly, our present discovery statutes do not allow that the contents of such accounts should be treated differently from the rules applied to any other discovery material, and it is impossible to determine at this juncture whether any such disclosures may prove relevant to rebut plaintiffs’ claims regarding, e.g., the permanent effects of the subject injury. Since it appears that plaintiff has voluntarily posted at least some information about himself on Facebook which may contradict the claims made by him in the present action, he cannot claim that these postings are now somehow privileged or immune from discovery.”

Earlier this year we covered the case of Tompkins vs. Detroit Metropolitan Airport, which also highlighted the importance of systematic search of public Facebook as standard procedure for nearly every type of criminal and civil litigation investigation.

We will have an update in about four weeks for the social case law published in May, so stay tuned.

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