Years ago, social media may have seen as whimsical and insignificant in the real world. Today, however, it is often at the forefront of technology, information, and politics. In fact, many court cases have allowed social media posts and profiles to be admitted as evidence. Needless to say, this has led to social media playing a major role in the decisions of the courts on multiple occasions.
While social media such as Instagram or Facebook can be used in court, there are several nuances and challenges involved in getting them admitted. Even once it has been accepted as evidence, it is not a surefire way to make a case or prove innocence or guilt. Many factors must be taken into consideration when using social media in this manner.
How social media can be admitted in court
Public posts can generally be admitted as evidence without too much pushback. This means that if someone makes a post on Facebook or tweets something publicly, it can be admitted as evidence if the court determines that it is relevant to the case. However, there must be a reason to believe that the public profile is authentic and that the posts were made by the involved party. The relevance of the post may also be difficult to agree on, as social media posts aren’t necessarily considered to be official statements or even always meant to be taken seriously.
When it comes to obtaining information from the private portions of a user’s social media account, things become more difficult. Lawyers can try to subpoena data from the media companies, but they will most likely cite the Stored Communications Act as a reason not to share their client’s information. In certain situations, however – specifically criminal cases – the social media companies h
ave shown willingness to cooperate with the authorities.
How social media can be used as evidence
As mentioned, public posts can often be admitted as evidence. If someone uses social media to physically threaten another person, this may be used as proof of their violent nature or intentions. Essentially, any public post is recorded information that can be used as evidence as long as can be reasonably believed to have come from the specific individual.
This isn’t limited to text posts, however. Photos that are posted on social media can be used as evidence as well. If a picture shows an individual in possession of drugs, weapons, or other illegal items, it can be used against them in court. Social media photos have been used in many court cases.
Bradley v. State
One early instance of social media being used as evidence took place in Houston, Texas. Michael Paul Bradley and his brother robbed a carwash at gunpoint, demanding that the victim hand over his possessions and car keys. The victim was able to identify Bradley and his brother through the use of Facebook photos, and the court deemed the evidence to be satisfactory. Although Bradley appealed the decision, it was upheld, and the Facebook photos were considered a key part of the original decision.