The Litigious Side of Social Media: Beware the IP Address

‘Big Brother’ is officially out of date – or rather, the concept has multiplied and taken on an entirely new dimension with the rise in social media usage. Of course you’re being watched. There are cameras everywhere, and even satellites that capture footage of every inch of the planet at any and all given points in time. But more likely, it’s the stuff that you are broadcasting to ‘Brother’ figures (be they insurance companies, attorneys, or government officials) that will come back to haunt you if you are at all inclined to activities with litigious side effects.

While the maintenance of user privacy on social media sites has been a hotly debated issue for some time, the increased use of these sites by those involved in affairs of the courts significantly magnifies concerns for many. Reader beware: the things you post can (and perhaps will) be used for or against you in a court of law.

It’s particularly important not to make any public confessions. Attorneys can (and do) use a Facebook and Twitter posts to establish if you’ve lied to your boss when you called in sick, or if you’ve been dishonest about a disability claim... or any other number of things about which you might be dishonest.

But who would be so silly as to confess something on the Internet? If only it were that simple. Perhaps you take a sick day from the office and claim that you have a doctor’s appointment. Surely you’ll post a sentiment to match, like: “This hospital smells like death. I can’t wait to get out of here and back to work.” That ought to cover you, right?

Not so fast. Most people don’t consider that the IP address from which you posted registers your whereabouts, and the IP address never lies. Later, when you’re being sued by your company for incompetence, don’t be surprised when the plaintiff offers proof that, in fact, you were not at the hospital at all on that given day. Rather, you tweeted hourly from an IP address that traces to a brothel in Nevada. You’re screwed.

On a lighter note, social media doesn’t always work against you. Facebook could be your alibi. In fact, a Facebook post established the innocence of Rodney Bradford, who would have been sentenced to a term in prison for robbery had he not posted “Where my IHOP?” just one minute before the crime was committed. The IP address was registered to his father’s house in Harlem, miles from the scene of the crime. Instead of a prison sentence, he was awarded a stack of pancakes.

While Facebook gets the most attention, don’t write off the use of other social networking sites. Your online professional networks may even serve to get you out of jury duty. Professional sites are also being tracked, too. For instance, some attorneys include a LinkedIn search when checking the background of potential jury members.

The moral of the story is to be aware – and if you’re hiding anything, don’t do anything online. If this information has you significantly worried, you’re not alone. There’s a Litigious Paranoia group on Facebook that you might be interested in joining...

Photo credit: Creative Commons