A Measured Response to Social Media Preservation

A Plaintiff in a civil lawsuit deactivated her Facebook profile on the advice of her attorney after the duty to preserve triggered. The Plaintiff claimed she used the account to primarily communicate with her family. Chapman v. Hiland Operating, LLC, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74248, 4-7 (D.N.D. May 29, 2014).

Facebook-Alerts

The Court granted in part the Defendant’s motion to compel production of the profile, with very specific instructions:

1. Plaintiff and attorney were to make a reasonable, good faith attempt to reactivate the Facebook account. Plaintiffs did not have to permit defense counsel to be present during the attempt to reactivate the account, and if the account was reactivated, plaintiffs did not have to provide defense counsel the account login and password or full access to the account.

2. If the Facebook account was reactivated, plaintiffs had to produce in the form of a screen shot other similar format all information from the account referencing one plaintiff’s health since a specific date, his relationship with the other plaintiff, and defined activities related to the lawsuit. 

Chapman, at *6-7.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Attorneys should discuss with their clients what types of social media they use for preservation of relevant electronically stored information. No lawyer should tell a party to deactivate an account that could have relevant information for a lawsuit, but it might not be a bad idea to give instructions limiting use during a case. This would depend on the facts of the case.

There are many options for preserving social media. Screen shots and print outs are perfectly acceptable if time is of the essence. I know many attorneys in family law, DA’s who prosecute deadbeat dads, or those seeking TRO’s who have done this “low tech” approach to social media preservation.

Social media preservation technology is readily available and commercially affordable. I strongly encourage attorneys who need to preserve social media to retain an expert who can capture relevant Tweets, Instagram photos or similar social media. The reason is simple: an expert can testify to have the social media was identified and preserved for authentication. While a party can also testify to how they printed a Facebook page or took a screen shot of Instagram, no lawyer wants to turn themselves into a testifying witness for preserving social media evidence.

I agree with the Judge’s production order. The Judge was upfront in questioning if there would be any relevant social media in the case, however issued a balanced order focusing on dates and the subject matter of the case. The fact passwords did not need to be produced and the Plaintiffs could attempt to reactivate the profile without defense counsel was an excellent acknowledgement of reality that social media is not Voo Doo. Passwords should not be provided under normal circumstances, because it is the producing party’s obligation to identify responsive discovery, not the requesting party’s right to rummage through non-responsive data on a fishing expedition.

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