Social Networking on sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter can be a very helpful tool in keeping in touch with friends, meeting new people, and sharing ideas. Be careful what you share, however, because it can become available to more people than you think and create damaging consequences to your reputation.
Social networking websites like Facebook, and MySpace have made it easy for people to keep their friends and family updated with their lives, and to maintain and expand social and business relationships. These websites allow users to conveniently and inexpensively generate and share information with the entire world, which has made these services wildly popular in the past few years. For example, in January of 2009, it was reported that Facebook topped 1.2 billion monthly visits. But, when using these sorts of services, people often fail to consider the potential risks associated with posting certain content online.
Employers have long been checking applicants' profiles on social networking sites as a tool for screening candidates. CareerBuilder.com reports that a survey of employers reveals that 77 percent of employers run internet searches on job applicants, and of those, 35 percent have declined applicants based on information they've found online. According to Kaplan, an education services company, other surveys reveal that college admissions officers routinely view applicant's Facebook and MySpace profiles before making acceptance decisions.
These days, however, a person's MySpace profile may have a negative impact beyond a lost job or educational opportunity - it may lead to legal trouble. As reported in the National Law Journal, "[l]awyers in civil and criminal cases are increasingly finding that social networking sites can contain treasure chests of information for their cases. Armed with printouts from sites such as Facebook and MySpace, attorneys have used pictures, comments and connections from these sites as powerful evidence in the courtroom."
Attorneys have a duty to research the backgrounds of their own clients as well as their opponents' and any witnesses to litigation. User-generated content posted on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook may seem innocent enough, until litigation arises, and that content may potentially be used as impeachment evidence. In criminal cases, content on defendants' MySpace profiles have resulted in harsher sentences, especially when pictures depict the defendant as having a general disregard for the laws they were convicted of violating (e.g., a person charged with DUI has many pictures on their MySpace profile show them drinking and partying).
The lesson to take away is that content that you post online may eventually be seen by people other than your immediate friends and family. If you are ever involved in litigation or charged with a crime, this content may be shown in court. You should always exercise wisdom and good judgment before posting anything on the internet that could potentially be used against you in the future. In addition, if you are ever involved in litigation, you should always inform your attorneys of any social networking sites in which you are involved. Be proactive in protecting yourself from legal trouble, from unintentionally damaging your reputation, or from being victimized by con artists or other people who may have bad intentions when they access your social networking profile.