Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life. But what if the people in your life want to use your Facebook posts against you in a civil lawsuit? In Pennsylvania, the answer is becoming clear – post at your own risk, for there is little expectation of privacy on Facebook.
A recent Pennsylvania civil case illustrates the extent to which Facebook can pop up in the courtroom. In Largent v. Reed, Largent’s motorcycle was struck by a minivan that was pushed into Largent’s motorcycle by a car that Reed was driving. As a result of the accident, Largent alleged serious and permanent physical and mental suffering.
During Largent’s deposition in the civil trial for damages, it was discovered that Largent had a Facebook page. While the page was “public” at one time, Largent had subsequently made her page “private” so that only her friends could see. Reed, the defendant, wanted to access Largent’s private page, claiming that Largent had posted status updates about going to the gym, despite testifying that she needed to walk with a cane. Pictures on the website also show Largent “enjoying life with her family.” Because such posts would contradict Largent’s allegations of serious and permanent physical and mental suffering, she refused to turn over her Facebook information, claiming that by making her Facebook page “private”, she had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information that she posted to her Facebook account.
The court disagreed, and ordered Largent to turn over her Facebook username and password to the defendant. In the decision, the court admonished Largent for attempting to hide relevant facts behind her “private” Facebook page, reasoning that “only the uninitiated or foolish could believe that Facebook is an online lockbox of secrets.”
Largent is one of three cases in Pennsylvania that have now held that, if a party in a civil case posts information on his Facebook page, and that information appears to contradict statements in discovery or testimony, then the party’s Facebook page falls within the scope of discovery.
The takeaway lesson is simple: no matter how you configure your privacy settings on Facebook or any social media site for that matter, they are a function of that site, and that site alone. It doesn’t translate into any legal privacy rights. Therefore, Poster beware–Information you post online in any social media site can and likely will be found by opposing parties in litigation, and is easily reachable through the power of a subpoena.