It’s no secret that social media has had a profound impact on the way we communicate. What may be less well known, however, is the extent to which social media can be used as evidence in legal proceedings.
As attorneys continue to grapple with the implications of social media on litigation, they are increasingly looking to social media posts as a source of evidence. This has led to a number of questions, such as: What types of social media posts can be used as evidence? How can attorneys collect this type of evidence? What are the best practices for using social media posts as evidence in an investigation? Can you actually use any? Let’s find out!
Table of Contents
What Is Social Media Evidence?
Broadly speaking, social media evidence is any type of content that is created or shared on a social media platform. This can include text posts, images, videos, private messages, and more.
Due to the nature of social media, this type of evidence can be particularly valuable in an investigation. That’s because social media posts often contain first-hand accounts of events, which can be used to corroborate other evidence or establish key facts in a case.
How Can You Use Social Media Posts As Evidence?
Social media posts can be used as evidence in a number of ways. For example, they can be used to:
Corroborate Other Evidence
If you have another piece of evidence that you want to corroborate, you can use social media posts as supporting evidence. For example, if you have a witness statement from someone who saw an accident, you could look for social media posts made by people who were at the scene of the accident and see if they support the witness’s account.
Establish Key Facts
Social media posts can also be used to establish key facts in a case. For example, if you are investigating a crime, you might look for social media posts made by the perpetrator or victim around the time of the crime. These posts can help establish important details like time, location, and motive.
Social media posts can be used to impeach witnesses who give conflicting statements. For example, if a witness says they were not at the scene of a crime but you find a social media post made by them from that location, you can use that post to impeach their testimony.
Types Of Social Media Posts That Can Be Used As Evidence
Not all social media posts are created equal. Some types of posts are more likely to be useful as evidence than others. Here are some examples:
• Text posts – Text posts can be used as evidence if they contain first-hand accounts of events or if they establish key facts in a case. For example, a text post might contain a witness’s account of a crime, or it might establish the time and location of an event.
• Images and Videos – Images and videos can also be used as evidence if they contain first-hand accounts of events or if they establish key facts in a case. For example, an image or a video might show the scene of a crime, or it might show someone at the scene of a crime.
• Private messages – Private messages can be used as evidence if they contain admissions or other incriminating information. For example, a private message might contain an admission of guilt or responsibility for a crime.
On the same note, there are a few types of social media posts that can’t or won’t be used as evidence in an investigation. These include:
• Text posts that are not first-hand accounts of events.
• Text posts that do not establish key facts in a case.
• Images and videos that are not first-hand accounts of events.
• Private messages that are not admissions or other incriminating information.
How To Collect Social Media Posts As Evidence
There are a few different ways to collect social media posts as evidence. The most common method is to take screenshots of the posts in question. This is what most people do.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that screenshots can be edited or manipulated. So, this is not your best bet and will most likely end up as inadmissible evidence in court. However, there’s a workaround called WARC or WebARChive format. WARC is basically a direct copy of a website at a particular time, with all the metadata, links, and other elements establishing data authenticity.
Another way to collect social media posts as evidence is to download them directly from the social media platform. Most platforms have this option, but if reach a dead end – you may click here and see how these guys could help you out.
How Do You Verify Or Authenticate Social Media Evidence?
The best way to authenticate social media evidence is to hire a team of professional social media investigators. They can help procure appropriate data, ensure chain of custody, and maintain the integrity of electronic information.
In general, the basis of authenticating social media evidence includes three main principles:
• Proof of authorship or account ownership
• Forensic preservation
• Establishing reliability
For proof of authorship or account ownership, you will need circumstantial evidence that requires a thorough record of supporting documents or witnesses. This may include metadata and digital signatures (as per FRE 902), witness accounts, or consistent usernames and profile photos across multiple platforms.
Forensic preservation is important in maintaining the chain of custody for social media evidence. This includes ensuring that the data is not altered in any way and that all transcriptions or transfer of information is properly documented.
Establishing reliability is essential in proving that the social media evidence you have gathered is associated with a particular person. This can be done by examining the way in which a platform collects and stores personal information. Factors such as two-factor authentication, verified public accounts, and email confirmations can all help to establish reliability.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of Using Social Media Posts As Evidence
There are both advantages and disadvantages to using social media posts as evidence in an investigation.
Some of the advantages include:
• Easy access.
• Corroborating other evidence.
• Establishing key facts.
• Impeaching witnesses.
Some of the disadvantages include:
• Not all social media postings will be treated as credible evidence.
• Screenshots may be altered or tampered with.
• Private communications can be erased or hidden.
Final Verdict – Can You Use Social Media Posts As Evidence In An Investigation?
Yes, you can use social media posts as evidence in an investigation.
As long as you do everything by the book and the evidence is properly collected and authenticated, it could tip the scales in your favor and help you win the case.