For the London Free Press – August 6, 2007
Beware of what you post online — you never know who is looking.
In what is being described as the first Canadian case that refers to MySpace, an Ontario judge stated that a defendant was free to use the MySpace pages of a plaintiff to cross examine the plaintiff at trial.
In this case, the plaintiff alleged she sustained serious and permanent physical injuries as well as emotional and psychological trauma in a motor vehicle accident. To be successful in the case, she had to show that she had sustained a permanent serious impairment of an important physical, mental or psychological function.
After discoveries, but before trial, the defendant found the plaintiff’s MySpace page, which, among other things, had pictures of her skiing in the Swiss Alps after the accident. The defendant no doubt took delight in finding this and being able to use it to cross examine the plaintiff to cast doubt on the severity of the injuries.
The rise of blogging and social network websites such as MySpace and Facebook has made personal information about individuals all the more accessible. Individuals join these social networking groups with good intentions to meet new friends, maintain on-going friendships or rekindle old ones. They post private information, pictures and messages in the spirit of being social.
Many users treat these sites similar to personal conversations with close friends. While there is some ability to restrict access by everyone, the reality is that they are conversing with the world and preserved in the Internet forever.
When individuals post this personal data, they tend to forget how broadly that information is available.
Anyone wanting to know something about an individual for any legitimate reason should take advantage of this. It might be a personal injury case such as this one, or to check out a job applicant, or a contractor you wish to hire to do a particular job.
The tools to use include search engines such as Google, personal data aggregation sites such as Zoominfo, and social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn.
Some caution is required though. Stick to publicly available information. Don’t hack into places meant to be private. Don’t resort to “pretexting,” or pretending to be the person you’re interested in, to get information. It’s also possible you could be accused of discrimination if a decision not to hire someone is based on information you’re not supposed to use.
And individuals posting information about themselves on the Internet should be mindful that it may be viewed by a wide audience. The immediacy of the Internet is one of its advantages, but also eliminates any time we might have to reflect on the appropriateness of our postings.
That comment or photo that may seem innocuous at the time may come back to haunt you. “It seemed like a good idea at the time” is little use as a defence or explanation later.