COLUMN: Facebook: Friend or foe?

by Kirsten Tonge

You have likely read about, heard of or even personally experienced the widespread effects of posting a photo, video or a comment on social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, or Twitter.

When you put yourself “out there,” the information becomes public, not only to your friends and family, but to others. Privacy settings can’t always protect you.

In some instances, prospective employers may look on your site to see what kind of lifestyle you lead.  As well, if you are involved in some sort of litigation, both your lawyer and the lawyer on the other side of your case will have very different reasons for wanting to know what you have been up to.

Recent decisions from B.C. courts highlight these issues.  In 2009, the Supreme Court determined that one plaintiff had an “inflated view” of her injuries from a motor vehicle accident. She testified that she could no longer kayak, hike or bicycle, but photos were produced by the defendant from the plaintiff’s own Facebook page showing her doing these very activities. The plaintiff was seeking $40,000 in damages, but was awarded only $3,500 for her “pain and suffering.”

In 2010, a 22-year-old man sued a number of parties for three separate accidents:  one in a shop class when he was 14, the next a motor vehicle accident when he was struck in a crosswalk at age 15, and a third at age 19 when he was in another motor vehicle accident.

The Supreme Court reviewed evidence which showed videos of the plaintiff winning a limbo contest at his graduation celebration, and Facebook photos of him playing football, sitting curled up in a clothes-dryer, kneeling on an inner tube while being towed behind a boat and other activities without apparent difficulty. As a result, damages were considerably reduced from the amount sought by the young man.

In a growing trend, these decisions, along with many other court decisions across Canada, serve as a cautionary note to those who participate on social networking sites:  everything on your site may affect your interests in litigation.

Privacy settings will not protect you if what you have said, posted, or displayed relates to a matter that may be relevant to your court case.

What is almost always relevant is your lifestyle.

When you hire a lawyer to represent you after an accident, be honest with them about your involvement in social networking. This may avoid embarrassment at a later date should you proceed to litigation, and will allow your lawyer to be better prepared to represent you.

Kirsten Tonge is an associate lawyer with RDM Lawyers. If you have questions or comments, please email legalease@abbynews.com.