The Law and Business of Social Media
May 01, 2015 - Status Updates

Status Updates

Social discovery. Are the photos and status updates that you post to your social media accounts discoverable regardless of the privacy settings you choose? If they contain information that is especially relevant to the case, they probably are. Take, for example, two recent cases in which courts have required litigants to produce information contained in their Facebook accounts. In Nucci v. Target the Florida Court of Appeals denied a personal injury claim plaintiff’s petition to quash an order compelling her to produce photographs from her Facebook account from two years before the accident to the present. The plaintiff sought emotional and economic damages stemming from a fall that she alleged was caused by a foreign substance on the floor of a Target store. The Florida court held that the photographs were “powerfully relevant” to the plaintiff’s damages claim since the quality of her life before and after the accident was at issue, and because surveillance videos of the plaintiff called her account of her post-accident life into question. The court held that this relevance “overwhelms” the plaintiff’s privacy interest in photos posted to a Facebook account despite privacy settings that prevented the photos from being seen by the general public. In the second case, Crowe v. Marquette Transportation Co., a federal district court in Louisiana ordered the plaintiff to produce a complete copy of his entire 4,000-page Facebook history, including the private messages he sent via the Facebook platform. The defendant Marquette alleged that investigators had discovered that the plaintiff in this worker’s compensation case had sent a Facebook message admitting that he was injured while fishing, not while working for Marquette. When, during a deposition, the defendant was shown a printout of the Facebook message, which appeared to have been sent from an account bearing his name, the defendant denied sending the message and testified that his account had been hacked. The district court held that “Marquette is entitled to analyze the thousands of pages of Facebook messages [that the plaintiff] exchanged with others… particularly given his [Facebook-account related] testimony.”

Smartphoning it in. A recent survey from Pew Research Center shows that the number of Americans with smartphones has jumped to 64%—a 29% increase since 2011. Despite the fact that the great majority of those smartphone owners (90%) have other means of accessing the Internet from home, 35% of them “frequently” use their phones to follow along with breaking news, 62% of them have used their phones to look up information about a health condition, and 57% have used their phones to do online banking. Whether someone has used his or her smartphone to access career opportunities, according to Pew, is largely dependent on whether a person is what the research firm calls “smartphone-dependent”—i.e., one of the 10% of Americans with no high-speed Internet access beyond their smartphones’ data plan. Of the smartphone-dependent people surveyed by Pew, 63% used their phones to access job openings in the last year, and 39% used their phones to submit job applications in the last year. Of the overall pool of cell phone owners surveyed by Pew, only 43% and 18% performed those job-search related activities, respectively.

Schadenfacebook. Bummed out by all of your friends’ check-ins at swanky restaurants and photos of their perfect offspring in your newsfeed? It turns out that you can get a handle on the depression that we’ve come to associate with social media use without swearing off your virtual networks altogether. Forbes reports that two new studies—one by the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology and one out of the University of Houston—have attributed the negative feelings that social media users sometimes experience to the same underlying mechanism: social comparison. And that’s something you can control. So the next time you find yourself clicking back through your old college buddy’s montage of his trip to Machu Picchu, remember: Most people only post the highlights of their experiences, not the reality of their daily lives. And, Forbes’s contributor suggests, “it wouldn’t hurt to post about those quieter, less glamorous moments, too. That might actually go a long way in making people feel more connected, instead of just the opposite.”