by Shishira Kothur, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff
Social networking has become a prominent form of communication and expression for society. Many people continue to post and blog about their personal lives, believing that they are hidden by separate account names. This supposed anonymity gives a false sense of security, as members of society post and upload incriminating and even embarrassing information about themselves and others. This information, while generally viewed by an individual’s 200 closest friends, is has also become a part of the courtroom.
This unique issue is further explained in Writings on the Wall: The Need for an Authorship-Centric Approach to the Authentication of Social-
Networking Evidence, Volume 13, Issue 1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology. Professor Ira P. Robbins emphasizes that since social media provides an easy outlet for wrongful behavior, it will inevitably find its way as evidence in litigation. Her article focuses on the courts’ efforts to authenticate the evidence that is produced from Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Very few people take care to set appropriate privacy settings. The result from this practice is an easy way for anyone to find important, personal information, which they can use to hack accounts, submit their own postings under a different name, and incriminate others. Similarly, the creation of fake accounts is a prominent tool to harass and bully individuals to the point of disastrous and suicidal effects. With results such as untimely deaths and inappropriate convictions, the method of proving the authorship of such postings becomes a critical step when collecting evidence.
Professor Robbins comments that currently a person can be connected to and subsequently lawfully responsible for a posting without appropriate proof that the posting is, in fact, theirs. The article critiques the current method the court applies to identifying these individuals, claiming that there is too much emphasis on testimonials of current access, potential outside access, and other various factors. It proposes a new method of assigning authorship to the specific item instead of the account holder. She suggests a specific focus on the type of evidence when applying Federal Rule of Evidence 901(b)(4), which will raise appropriate questions such as the account ownership, security, and the overall posting that is related to the suit. The analysis thoroughly explains how this new method will provide sufficient support between the claims and the actual author. As social media continues to grow, so do the opportunities to hack, mislead, and ultimately cause harm. This influx of information needs to be filtered well in order for the courts to find the truth and serve justice to the right person.