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Can your social media profiles be used in court?

When you sign up for social media profiles, you think of them as something over which you have ownership. You expect a certain degree of privacy, and you even get "privacy" settings to help control who can see what. Do you have a right to privacy in all cases, or can courts use this information?

For example, perhaps you're an executive helping run a multi-state corporation. You've been accused of defrauding your investors. They want to pull information from your social media accounts to see if you actually committed fraud or not. Can they do it?

What courts have often found is that what you think of as private information is not really private. It's not the same as information that was never made public. The number of people who see that content does not really matter. Once sharing and uploading has begun, courts consider the content to be public information, and then courts can and often do use it.

It doesn't necessarily matter if you restricted access. Perhaps you shared the information in a group with just a few friends, for example, and not over the entire network. Maybe you just sent it in a message. Maybe you posted the information and then deleted it. Even so, it can still count as public information, though you never wanted the public to see it.

In some cases, you can even face orders to give up your login and passwords. There have been cases where officials get clearance to log in and poke through the information for weeks on end. You thought all of those messages you sent were private, but now anyone can bring them back up and read them.

Essentially, when you put anything online, you should assume that everyone can see it, even if you change access so that this is not the case. Remember, you don't own the websites that you're using. Your profile is not really yours. The company -- Facebook, Twitter, or any other -- has decided to let you make an account on their site. You may feel like it's private and personal, but it's not.

Additionally, remember that even deleting things on the Internet doesn't mean they're gone. People could have screenshots. Certain websites can bring up older versions of other sites, displaying information the original posters have since deleted. In many ways, the Internet is forever, and nothing is ever actually gone.

The accusations you're facing are very serious. They could mean the end of your professional career, along with legal ramifications. Always be sure you really know your legal rights and the options that you have. Never make assumptions about privacy rights or anything else as the case moves forward.

Source: Nov. 30, -0001

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