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Too many crime victims have lawsuits weakened by social media

Imagine being the victim of a crime and having the bravery to testify against the perpetrator in court. When you file a civil lawsuit, however, attorneys for the defense essentially call you a liar. Their proof? Some Facebook photos that seem to show you smiling and enjoying life.

This type of situation may sound far-fetched, but it is sadly common. In fact, it was discussed in a recent article in Slate Magazine, with one particularly sad real-life example of how social media evidence can be misused in court.

The case concerned a 15-year-old girl whose high school teacher sexually preyed on her. This was back in 2006. When her teacher was eventually charged criminally, the young woman and two other students testified against him. He ended up pleading guilty and was sentenced to prison.

The teen more recently decided to file a civil lawsuit against her former teacher, as well as the school district and school officials who negligently allowed the sex abuse to occur. In her lawsuit, she alleged that due to "repeated sexual injury and assault," she suffered from:

  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Trust issues in relationships
  • Emotional distress
  • Nightmares and sleep deprivation
  • Alienation of affections

In an attempt to discredit the plaintiff, attorneys for the school district looked around her Facebook page to find pictures and other evidence showing the girl enjoying life and relationships. Last month, the plaintiff was ordered to give the defense attorneys access to basically the entire history of her Facebook activity.

Most of us understand that Facebook and other social media sites are not a true reflection of our daily lives. Rather, our social media profiles are carefully cultivated to show either the best version of ourselves or an idealized version of how we would like others to see us. Facebook is not a venue for discussing life's tragedies, especially not very personal tragedies like sex abuse.

Yet far too often, social media evidence is used in court and taken at face value.

Hopefully, this practice will change over time as judges and juries come to recognize that social media is not an accurate barometer of one's life or emotional state. Until then, plaintiffs need to be aware that their social media accounts could be scrutinized in an attempt to discredit them.

If you have been the victim of sexual abuse or any other crime, you have the right to seek compensation and justice in court. Instead of being dissuaded by scrutiny of your social media activity, please seek help from an attorney who understands how to expose such "evidence" as distracting and irrelevant.

Source: Slate, "Evidence of Life on Facebook," Amanda Hess, April 29, 2015

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