Millions of Americans are members of the various social networking websites, and the popularity and prevalence of this phenomenon shows no signs of slowing. Services like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter allow individuals and businesses to communicate with the world instantaneously by simply posting a status change or uploading a picture. But while users flock to these services for their benefits, there are risks to be considered as well.

These websites have become a vast source of information in all facets of life and business. Employers are now able to investigate job applicants through these websites, and some college admissions offices now use them to scrutinize applying students as well. Lawyers are also now being trained to use these websites to gather evidence relevant to their clients’ cases. As a result, the split-second and often impulsive decision to post a status change or a message could result in significant damage to an important legal case.

For example, a business manager’s Facebook status message referring to an employee in a derogatory way could serve as key evidence if that employee were to file suit. In a personal injury case, a picture of a plaintiff smiling with friends and family on vacation after an accident could be used by the defendant in an effort to undermine a claim for pain and suffering, even if that picture was taken entirely out of context. For these reasons, businesses and individuals should take a preventive approach to the use of these websites.

Businesses should create and maintain a well-defined policy for the use of social networking websites. Second, employees should receive training regarding the proper and effective use of these networking tools, not only to limit potential liability and ensure compliance with any applicable professional ethics or standards, but also to increase the effectiveness of these networking mechanisms for marketing your business.

Individuals should take full advantage of the privacy settings each website offers, recognizing that there is still no guarantee that this information will not be accessible. Recently, some courts have ordered parties to turn over information hidden by privacy settings. Most importantly, a person must use caution in deciding what to post on these websites, recognizing how a picture, status or comment can easily be misconstrued. As a general rule, always err on the side of caution.

In this new age, social networking websites have the ability to help businesses grow by fostering new opportunities and relationships. Individuals and businesses need not miss out on these opportunities, but they must bear in mind that the benefits do not come without hazards that require caution. Please contact MG Law for more information.

The materials on this website are meant for informational purposes only and nothing contained in this site is to be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should contact an attorney directly. Do not act upon the information on this site without seeking professional guidance. Information on this website about specific matters or success in previous cases is not meant to be a prediction or guarantee of similar results in any other case. Each case consists of factors and applicable law unique to that case and you should consult an attorney.