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Thank You For Being a Friend

One pleasant day in 2004, I walked into the office of the Student Government Association at UNC Wilmington. My plan was to review some fee increase proposals various departments had submitted. As the Treasurer at the time, part of my job was to sit on the Student Fee Committee which is comprised of student representatives, faculty, and administrators and decides whether student fees can be increased to provide support for student services and other areas of University life. The work of the committee directly impacts the wallets of over 10,000 students.

About the time I sat down at my desk, the Student Body Vice President (or maybe it was the President, I don’t remember), came up to me and showed me a new website that was spreading through college campuses like wildfire. The website rocked my world. I was intrigued, amazed, and soon became utterly engrossed.

What was this website? No, it wasn’t the Numa Numa kid. It was something even more awesome. It was Facebook. As a first generation Facebook user, I’ve seen the site evolve for better and for worse. Back “in the day” it was open only to college students and you belonged to groups to show your support for something. Then high school students were welcomed in. Then came the rest of the world, including corporations, politicians, advocacy groups, and even law firms. Instead of belonging to groups, I became a “Fan” of things and now I just plain “Like” things.

The introduction of the Newsfeed brought with it instant updates about friends all streaming into a single location. It was a stalker’s paradise, and it’s evolved into a full out intelligence gathering powerhouse. Over the past few days, all 395 of my closest friends knew the following about me:

“Michael commented on Kerstin (Name Redacted)’s status.”

“Michael Rothrock just caved to the oddly strong power of the infomercial
and ordered P90X. This could get interesting…”

“Michael Rothrock is at Killers with the wife.”

On the other hand, I knew the following about some of my friends:

Joshua (Name Redacted) joined the group 1,000,000 People
Who Want to Plug the BP Oil Spill with Sarah Palin

Jennifer (Name Redacted) Is super sore after being rear ended outside
of first federal this morning.

Greg (Name Redacted) is livin’ the dream

Beth Leone Noble loves Chocolate Cherios!

Who cares? Well, judging by the comments and the “Likes” a lot of people do.

For newer users out there, imagine a world without the Newsfeed or Mafia Wars or Farmville or whatever it is that you do to waste hours of your precious short time on this earth. Imagine a world without the iPhone or Blackberry App (gasp!!). There was none of that back then. There was, however, less ads, less “accessing” of your profile by third-party apps, and generally a whole lot more privacy.

And privacy on social media sites is the key, especially if you’re involved in litigation. More and more attorneys throughout the country are turning to Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and the other time wasters out there to discover more information about litigants. This may pose a problem for a client who posts embarrassing or compromising pictures on the site, posts things on their wall for the world to see about the accident, or unwittingly does anything that could affect the case.

I personally have used Facebook to dig up information on trial witnesses I knew little about beforehand and discovered some useful information. In one case, I remember having a difficult time locating a defendant for service through our more conventional methods. Luckily, this guy had a Myspace page that was open to anybody and it listed the current town he was living in and the college he was attending. With little effort knowing that information, I was finally able to track down a valid address for him. You’ve been served, sir!

Let’s say Jennifer from above had instead posted, “I was rear ended this morning but am okay. Good thing I wasn’t injured!” It is not uncommon for soft tissue injuries to manifest themselves a few days after the traumatic event occurs. If Jennifer has an open profile, she may arm the defense attorney or insurance company with a harmful admission from her own profile that will assist them in defending the claim.

Clients will occasionally ask me what to do about their Facebook page. I remain unsure of how to answer them because the law is often very slow to catch up with technology and I haven’t seen Facebook used that much by opposing counsel. If you find yourself involved in litigation and have a Facebook page, then you should use common sense. Personally, I feel its common sense for everyone to only allow those people you truly know to be able to find out the sensitive personal information we publish to our “friends” online. Check your social media outlet’s privacy policy and the tools at your disposal to ensure they are giving you the maximum protection they can. You never know who may be out there looking.

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his own. This blog post is not intended to convey any specific legal advice upon any specific individual. The author wastes copious amounts of time on Facebook (off the clock, of course). He has been known to utilize the chat feature with his wife. While they’re both sitting in the home office. Less than two feet apart. The author realizes this is extremely pathetic, but he is a product of his generation. The author has thus far resisted the urge to join Twitter because he still thinks tweeting is for twits, but he must admit it’s getting more appealing by the day. If you like reading this blog, the author suggests you become a fan of (or he thinks the proper term is now “Like”) Leone Noble & Seate to receive the latest updates from the firm and relevant legal topics. Nothing on the firm’s Facebook page should be construed as legal advice, and if you are a client we strongly discourage posting case-specific questions to the Wall.

Author’s Note: If you are a client, the firm has a policy that does not allow staff members to accept friend requests from clients past or present on their personal Facebook pages. This is done for your protection as well as ours, and helps us to also maintain the professionalism expected in our attorney-client relationship. Thank you for your understanding.

Special Note: R.I.P. Blanche. Thank you for being a friend.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Beth June 9, 2010, 9:04 am

    I stand by my post… I do love chocolate cheerios and I think you are better off for knowing that about me :)

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