It has been a significant amount of time since electronic-mail, or email for short, started being used as evidence in the court of law. In fact, many litigators prefer using email communication between two or more parties to prove core arguments within a case because people have the tendency to be a bit more candid on emails than they are in more formal means of communication such as letters.
However, now many people have shifted away from emails to other communication mediums, especially those which allow instant messaging, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Not only that, but people have also started sharing tidbits about their life and also their personal views on social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
In fact, Twitter by nature is all about sharing personal viewpoints in the form of brief statements no longer than 140 characters, which makes it an excellent channel to scoop out information which may either make or break the case.
There are two ways through which lawyers can fish out information from social media accounts: either investigate on their own by gaining access to privately shared content through one of their social media contacts, or seek permission from relevant authorities to get access to shared content directly. Either way, the content shared on social media has many implications and can prove to be very important.
The Self-Help Method
Although it may seem like a good idea to pressurize a friend of the opposing party to give you access to the restricted content, however such actions can land you in some serious trouble with the authorities. The legal and acceptable way to access such content is to first check whether the opposing party has made it publicly available on their social media profiles.
For example, people using Twitter usually keep their profiles open to public, which makes their tweets public property. This means that whatever is being shared by a person on Twitter, if it is made available for everyone to see, then it can be used as evidence in the courtroom without any problems. You don’t even need permission to use it.
However, if the content has been made private and you still need to access it, then you first need to ascertain whether the opposing party is represented by counsel or not. If there is representation, then you cannot approach the party directly with your request and instead must approach the matter through the counsel representing the party.
In case there is no representation, then you may approach the party directly with your request however there are certain rules which must be followed. First, you must state your full name while making the request and also share your full profile without making any effort to hide your identity in any way.
Second, the opposing party has all the right to inquire about the nature and purpose of your request, and you are then legally bound to answer all such inquiries.
In case these protocols are not followed and you obtain privately shared content, then you can be sued in the court of law for invasion of privacy.
The Formal Discovery Method
While the general impression is that privately shared content is protected by law, there are workarounds which can allow you access. For example, as has been proven in some cases, the court can order a person to provide consent so that the social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter may give up their privately shared information to the authorities.
After such consent is provided, a legally consensual request is submitted with the respective website to release the content.
The law is pretty clear about the matter: if you can prove that the content shared on social media will prove to be of great benefit to the case, the court will normally allow your request to access the opposing parties privately-shared content. However, you must still authenticate your findings as it can be easily argued that the account was hacked and the posts were made by someone else.