There is no doubt that social media offers a host of positive opportunities for communication, self-expression and information sharing. However, taking advantage of all that social media has to offer isn’t necessarily wise during every stage of life. For example, what someone posts could come back to haunt them during a divorce or child custody dispute.
Additionally, the intersection of social media and criminal defense too often leads to complications that can undermine the rights of the accused and the strength of their defense strategy. It is for these reasons that it is generally wise for someone to stay off of social media whenever they are being investigated by law enforcement or have been arrested and accused of criminal wrongdoing.
The potential for self-incrimination
Even well-intentioned social media posts can unintentionally incriminate individuals. People often share details of their personal lives, thoughts and experiences online, sometimes without full awareness of the public and permanent nature of these confessions. In criminal cases, prosecutors may scour a defendant’s social media accounts for evidence, which can be taken out of context or misconstrued.
A single post or photo could be interpreted as an admission of guilt or be used to establish a motive or opportunity, potentially swaying a jury’s perception of the defendant and/or a judge’s perception of how harshly they should be punished.
The risk of compromising one’s case
Additionally, the real-time nature of social media can compromise the fairness of a trial. Jurors, who are expected to remain impartial, might access information about the case or the defendant outside of the courtroom. This extrajudicial information can influence their decision-making, leading to bias. Despite instructions from the judge to avoid outside information, the temptation and ease of access to social media can lead jurors to unintentionally or intentionally violate these rules.
Information on social media can also impact “the court of public opinion.” This frustrating reality can result in undue pressure on legal professionals, witnesses and jurors, potentially influencing the ultimate outcome of a defendant’s case. While unethical pursuit of public approval or fear of public backlash can sway decisions that should be based solely on legal considerations and the evidence presented in court.
These are just a few of the primary reasons why criminal defendants should remain off of social media until their cases are resolved. Abstaining from social media isn’t always easy, but with so much at stake, this effort is almost always worth the sacrifice.