In light of Facebook’s extreme popularity and the large amount of personal information that many users choose to share, it is not surprising that Facebook has presented some challenging legal issues for attorneys and their clients to deal with.It is now becoming common for plaintiff’s firms such as the Charles Boyk Law Offices, LLC to receive formal discovery requests from defense lawyers requesting client Facebook usernames and passwords. The defense lawyers argue that the client’s Facebook page may contain information or photographs that would be relevant to the case and therefore they are entitled to “take a look.” The plaintiff’s lawyers respond and argue that information on Facebook is generally irrelevant and that requiring a client to provide his or her username and password is a violation of privacy rights.
The courts that have considered the issue have come down with mixed results. There have been some judges who have required a client to disclose his or her Facebook username and password. There have been some judges who have said that a client absolutely does not have to disclose his or her username and password. There have been some judges who come down in the middle and said it depends on the circumstances of the case.
It is clear that lawyers cannot advise their clients to delete Facebook postings or photos. For example, a lawyer in Virginia recently did this and was charged with improper conduct and tampering with evidence. It is also clear that Facebook posts and photos can be devastating to a client’s case. For example, in a recent Florida wrongful death case, the judge reduced the jury’s award by half after a Facebook photo surfaced of the plaintiff-husband wearing a racy t-shirt, holding a beer, and wearing a garter belt on his head shortly after his wife’s death.
The moral of the story is to use common sense and keep your Facebook page appropriate at all times. Keep in mind that whatever you say or post on Facebook may become relevant in legal proceedings and may need to be turned over to the opposing lawyer. If you are involved in a car accident or another unfortunate event, keep the matter private and don’t discuss it or post photos on Facebook. By being smart and following these simple rules now, you can save yourself a lot of headache down the road!