Don’t Wreck Your Case on Social Media

by Brooksie Bonvillain

“Mobile uploads,” “hashtags,” and “checking in” have become part of our everyday vocabulary. Because of social media, our lives are more public than ever. This is—indeed—a double-edged sword. While you think you are updating your friends and family on the latest in your life, others may exploit the shared information and use it against you.

This is particularly true in the legal world, specifically personal injury claims. Think about it. You’re injured in a motor vehicle collision. Before you leave the scene, you snap some photos of the wreckage on your smartphone to document the property damage. Without giving it a second thought, you upload the photos to Instagram and Facebook with #carwreck #worstdayever. Then you go to the emergency room for medical treatment, “check in,” and share your location with your social media followers. After you’re seen by the doctor, you go home and post your diagnosis as the caption of a picture of you resting on the couch with an ice pack and #carwreck #sore so your followers can stay up to date on your condition. Some of your friends comment to let you know they are “so glad you’re okay!” and you reply “Thanks!! Should still be able to go hiking this weekend. :)” When you try to go hiking a few days later, you end up back in the emergency room, but only after you’ve posted several pictures hiking with your friends #summer #hiking. Those photos may be used against you in your case to try to make it look like you had no effects from the wreck just a few days later, when in fact you really weren’t able to hike, and trying to do it was very painful.

This series of events may seem normal in your daily routine, but it can wreck your personal injury case on social media. Part of your legal team’s job is to control the exchange of information with insurance adjusters and opposing counsel, just like they control the flow of information about their insured and client. By posting all of this information online, you make it very difficult for your attorney to effectively frame the narrative of your case and decide what information to share. Once information is posted online, it is available for public consumption, so your attorney is forced to address the information you’ve shared.

Many of you reading this article may be thinking, “No big deal. I have privacy settings.” But you may be very wrong. Social media privacy settings change frequently. Although similar, most platforms have slightly different terms of use and privacy options.

Be honest with yourself. Have you ever actually read the terms of use? Even though you think your social media accounts are protected from people outside of your network, your friends of friends may be able to see the information you post and even share that information with their friends of friends . . . and so on and so forth.

There is also a very real concern with requests to connect with social media users who appear legitimate but you do not personally know. These users could be insurance company representatives or part of the other side’s legal team.

Now, if you take anything away from this article, read these pointers as the cheat sheet version to avoid wrecking your case on social media.

  1. Don’t Post – Don’t post anything on social media until your personal injury case is resolved. It’s that easy. Even if you have privacy settings, your privately posted information may become part of your claim.
  2. Post Purposefully – It’s difficult for most to follow the “Don’t Post” rule. So, at the very least, post purposefully. Think before you post. What effect may this post have on my case? Is this post about my collision and injuries?
  3. Check Privacy – Check privacy settings for each of your social media accounts. Can my connections post publicly on my account? Can my connections share my posts?
  4. Don’t Connect – If you receive a new connection request, determine whether you know the user before accepting. Also review your current connections and remove unknown users. This includes individual users and groups.
  5. Block Search – Remove your account from search results within the social media platform and other search engines.

I’m sure you’re saying “I get it. Check my privacy settings.” if you’ve made it this far into this article. But here are more specific things to think about for some of the most popular social media platforms.

  1. Facebook – What are your sharing settings and search controls? Who can see where you “check in?” Visit https://www.facebook.com/help/325807937506242/ for basic information on Facebook privacy settings and tools.
  2. Instagram – Are you posting with hashtags that make your posts searchable? Are you commenting on other posts with public visibility? Visit https://help.instagram.com/196883487377501 for basic information on Instagram privacy settings and tools.
  3. Snapchat – Are your stories available to the public? Are there any users on your friend list who you don’t recognize by name? Visit https://support.snapchat.com/en-US/a/privacy-settings for basic information on Snapchat privacy settings and tools.
  4. Google – What are the results if you run a Google search of your name? Do you need to remove any social media hits? Visit https://privacy.google.com/take-control.html for basic information on Google privacy settings and tools.
  5. Venmo – Can other users see your transactions? Visit https://help.venmo.com/hc/en-us/articles/235493307-Account-Settings-Security-FAQ for basic information on Venmo privacy settings and tools.