I have written a fair amount over the years about the use which may be made of one’s social media posts. I am interested partly as a user, but mainly as a commentator on discovery / disclosure. Social media posts put up in a light-hearted moment may prove to be the discovery material of the future. In appropriate cases, lawyers will trawl the social media, of their own clients as well as others, to look for evidence which may confirm or undermine something said by a client, opponent or witness.
I wrote recently (see Reminders from Ukraine about evidence-gathering from electronic devices) about the most extreme example of adverse consequences – posts from Ukraine which might invite a torrent of explosives. It took only a few weeks for that to happen.
The last few days have brought us two examples, one of embarrassment and one of more tangible consequences.
Wes Streeting is a Labour Party politician and a rising star. He has been recently spoken of as a potential Labour leader and that, inevitably, has led to some mining of his social media accounts. The result was not pretty:
These tweets go back to between 2009 and 2011, before Streeting became a politician and when he was quite young. If they do not actually harm his chances, they will not have improved them. Hasty deletions will not help him, because there are people out there tracking MPs’deleted tweets.
Labour’s political opponents have also made use of an interview which Streeting gave about his grandparents – the grandfather who knew the Krays and the grandmother who shared a cell with Christine Keeler. That all quietened down when the more sensible Conservatives realised that it was not helpful to talk about other people’s ancestral crooks while they have some of their own on the front bench, and that any mention of Christine Keeler merely reminded people of an MP from the past who resigned immediately after lying to the House of Commons.
The political search for Streeting’s stupid tweets parallels the exercise which might be undertaken during litigation or an investigation – not every time, but in cases where reputation or honesty might be questioned as a result.
The other story is more interesting to me because of my recent article which suggested that soldiers might bring down adverse consequences on their own side by incautious social media posts. As it happens, I also wrote about this way back in 2014 (see eDiscovery lessons from a Russian soldier’s Ukraine pictures) when a Russian soldier helped give away Putin’s troop movements within Ukraine’s border.
The story is encapsulated in the pictures attached to the tweet below – a Russian soldier posts a picture of himself surrounded by ammunition and publishes it complete with GPS information which enables Ukrainian artillery to blow the store to bits.
The discovery / disclosure equivalent is finding, say, a Facebook post which destroys a claim about the effects of injuries, as in the Cirencester case which I mentioned in my April article. There is more to discovery than emails.