Friday, August 29, 2008

Blog Posts Can and Will be Used against You

On the front page of The Intelligencer earlier this week, there was an interesting article titled “Defense Attorneys Trolling the Internet Too” by Laurie Mason, concerning defense lawyers using social media outlets to help their cases in court.

Police and prosecutors have been using the Internet for some time now when gathering materials in a case. Now defense attorneys are joining the crowd. Mason’s article highlights the increased usage of sites like MySpace and Facebook as they provide an unfiltered look into clients' lives.

Blogs entries about alcohol-abuse, hidden drug stashes, or entries talking about revenge or payback all are now being used to speak volumes to a judge or jury.

Middletown attorney, Niels Eriksen has used “printouts of alleged assault victim's MySpace blogs in which the participants posted entries about how they threw the first punch or got the better of the other brawler or were plotting revenge against his client.”

Not only are client’s personal blogs and networking sites being looked over, but their friends and family members' posts could also be used in court.

Experts in the article say these sites are often seen as an outlet to vent to a few close friends but those involved in court cases don’t always keep in mind that their posts are public. Furthermore, pictures and blogs that are published on the Internet are hard to erase.

According to Mason’s article, "defense lawyers don't have to reveal their tactics before trial, the unveiling of a racy Internet photo or salacious blog can result in a true ‘gotcha’ moment in court."

Not all attorneys agree with using these Internet posts in a client’s defense case. Doylestown attorney, Craig Penglase says, “The problem with these networking sites is that it is really a domain of fiction, and is therefore an unreliable source of information. Anyone who uses such information in court proceedings without substantial corroboration is doing justice a grave disservice.”

Regardless of whether attorneys use this information or not, I thought this was an important article to comment on as it showcases the importance of monitoring what is put out onto the Internet. From a public relations standpoint, blogs and social networking sites are ways to reach your target audience such as existing clients, stakeholders, community members and provide outlets to garner new business by creating a two-way conversation.

From a personal branding angle, a "gotcha" moment could haunt you in a variety of ways. For example when interviewing for a future job, if old college fraternity party pictures of you are found showing you in an unprofessional manner that may be the deciding factor between you and the other job candidate. This is just another lesson in brand management for all of us. It is important to be aware of your online presence. How you display yourself on the Internet can and will be used against you in a variety of situations, now just in the court of law.

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