‘Like’ it or not: How social media can lead to litigation

By John G. Browning

Risk Management Magazine

From claims investigations and debt collections to employment practices liability and libel claims, social media might get you sued.

About two-thirds of the adult population of the United States has a presence on a social networking platform. Over 900 million people worldwide are users of Facebook, and over half visit the site at least once a day. In any given month, over 30 billion separate pieces of content (wall posts, photos, etc.) are uploaded to Facebook, while Twitter processes a staggering 340 million tweets daily from its more than 140 million active users.

Corporate America, too, has jumped on the bandwagon, with companies now constantly touting their social media presence and exhorting consumers to like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. In fact, 2012 will mark the first year that corporate spending for online advertising exceeds spending for print advertising.

Claims professionals and risk managers are increasingly seeing the significance of social media in claims investigations and the defense of litigation. As more and more people live their lives online, sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and MySpace have become a digital treasure trove for incriminating photos and online admissions that undermine a claimant’s case.

Courts across the country have shown a willingness to compel suddenly-shy litigants to turn over content from their social media profiles, especially when the publicly viewable pages contradict the claims made in the lawsuit. Privacy objections are frequently brushed aside, with some judges noting the disconnect between posting material on a site whose fundamental purpose is sharing and then later protesting when the same content is sought in discovery.

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