Frenemies abound: Social Media in the age of eDiscovery

Proponents of Social Media platforms herald its incredulous nature and unprecedented ability to connect people from afar, allow people to constantly update their friends and family members regarding everything they do or think, and document the world at large in an easy-to-digest manner. However, many of the more important conversations never make it out of the underground vaults of eDiscovery and other legal professionals.

Recently, there has been a marked shift in the legal implications of social media in the enterprise sphere. Though many businesses and individuals might believe that posting pictures of themselves will be relatively harmless and out of the reach of those they are not ‘Friends’ with, the actual nature of social media is quite the opposite. Precedence has continued to shift as more social media-oriented eDiscovery proceedings enter courtrooms.

Ohio Magistrate Judge rules request ‘overbroad’

A recent eDiscovery Daily article explained that Magistrate Judge Mark Abel ruled a social media discovery request overboard in the case of Howell v. The Buckeye Ranch. The source explained that the defendant asked the plaintiff to disclose all user names and passwords for each of the social media platforms in question. The case involved sexual harassment allegations related to employment discrimination.

The defendant wanted to prove, through social media-based evidence, that the plaintiff was in fact living a joyous life, though the judge deemed the request as “unduly burdensome and overbroad.” This was yet another instance of such rulings related to social media discovery, as many cases involving similar allegations have led to this type of decision.

The news provider noted that while data stored in private social media accounts can be discoverable in some instances, unfounded allegations and overbroad demands are simply not acceptable.

“The fact that the information defendants seek is in an electronic file as opposed to a file cabinet does not give them the right to rummage through the entire file,” Judge Abel remarked in his decision, according to eDiscovery Daily. “The same rules that govern the discovery of information in hard copy documents apply to electronic files. Defendants are free to serve interrogatories and document requests that seek information from the accounts that is relevant to the claims and defenses in this lawsuit. Plaintiff’s counsel can then access the private sections of Howell’s social media accounts and provide the information and documents responsive to the discovery requests.”

Lessons learned from this and other cases

The fact that private social media accounts can be deemed discoverable by a judge, so long as the request is reasonable and targeted, should give most business owners the motivation to more adequately place policies regarding employee and business accounts. Aside from eDiscovery proceedings, data stored and transferred with major providers has been the topic of many legal discussions in recent months.

Take Google’s new privacy disclaimer as an example, as many surveys indicated the vast majority of the company’s users didn’t even read the specifications. On top of that, most analysts believe that those who did read it didn’t even come close to comprehending it.

With Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn and more all containing such a massive amount of personal information, businesses need to safeguard themselves from both hackers and the potential for eDiscovery meltdowns. Conventional wisdom states that proactive defenses are the only solution to avoid these issues.

What to look for in a protector

Business owners have a wide variety of options for eDiscovery solutions providers, but most have absolutely no idea how the technology works, what it should cost and why it is even necessary. The key is finding an eDsicovery solutions provider that takes a highly consultative approach to the processes, and cultivates a strong professional relationship with its clients.

Further, always look for a service provider that can leverage the most advanced tools and software, not one that constantly glorifies one such solution because of under-the-table dealings. With a consultative and agile electronic litigation solutions provider, your company’s social media use, as well as that of your employees, will be safe and secure.