How Oversharing on Social Media Can Destroy a Court Case

  • The Trump administration is planning to expand the usage of social media as a way of determining the legitimacy of a court course.
  • A 2020 proposal would allow the Social Security Administration (SSA) more freedom to screen a user’s social media to evaluate disability claims.

Social media is an almost unconscious constant in the lives of many people today. Now used by over 3 billion people around the world, it’s utilized by many to share insights into their lives, often with friends and strangers alike. But sharing even innocent pictures and information online can negatively affect court cases you’re involved in.

For example, in 2016, rapper 50 Cent filed for bankruptcy. However, when he posted pictures on his social media of himself surrounded by money, the bankruptcy judge looking into his case called his financial situation into question. 

One post that harnessed a particularly negative response featured the rapper next to stacks of $100 dollar bills spelling out B-R-O-K-E.  

Although the rapper’s lawyers assured the judge that 50 Cent had been transparent with his creditors from the start of the process, the judge still wanted an explanation of his actions on social media. Something as seemingly innocent as posting pictures online could have given accusations of non-transparency validation. 

How Social Media Can Affect All Types of Court Cases

Social media doesn’t only affect bankruptcy court cases. It can also have a direct impact on court cases such as personal injury and social security disability cases.

Social media surveillance can be used to find evidence for or against a claimant’s injury or disability. Legitimate injuries can be called into question due to information shared on social media that seemingly contradicts personal injury claims.

Similarly, if what a person shares online doesn’t fully validate the claims they’re making about the extent to which a disability affects their life, it could severely harm a Social Security disability case.

This can be difficult because in a court case, individuals are often trying to prove the extent to which their disability affects them, while on social media they may feel pressured to put on a good face and downplay the negatives in their lives. Social media doesn’t necessarily reflect real life, especially considering that social media platforms have the reputation of being filled with photoshopped, “fake” pictures and information.

It’s fair to argue that social media doesn’t show the whole story. Easily misinterpreted and taken out of context, social media posts can be wholly unreliable.

One example of social media affecting a real-life case comes from a woman who attended a Social Security hearing where a Facebook image showing her on a hike was used as evidence. It was argued that this contradicted her claim of the extent to which her disability affected her. But what didn’t show up in the Facebook picture was that she was bedridden for days after the picture was taken. A simple picture can’t tell the whole story.

What You Should Do

It’s no secret that you should be careful about what you post online. Although the SSA currently only uses social media as a way to identify fraudulent activity, last year the administration announced a proposal to expand how they utilize and review social media in evaluating applicants for disability benefits in 2020.  

The agency declared that they are “evaluating how social media could be used by disability adjudicators in assessing the consistency and supportability of evidence in a claimant’s case file.”

It’s a good idea to keep your privacy settings across your social media tight. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are sites most commonly used to access personal information and posts. 

Another way to determine what personal information about you is accessible online is simply to Google yourself. What shows up in a simple search? If there is anything suspicious or overly personal that’s publicly accessible, make sure to remove it. You can also ask your Social Security attorney to review your online presence to make sure you haven’t posted information that could be used against you.

It’s best to avoid posting too much about yourself in general if you’re in the middle of a court case. You should especially avoid posting anything about your injury or disability and recovery, and don’t allow friends to post about your situation either.