Five Smooth Stones: A Cautionary Tale

Used to be that “one in a million” referred to something or someone special. Well, how about one in 1.11 billion? That’s what you are if you’re a Facebook user. And out of that total number, 665 million are active daily Facebook users.

Consider these other social media stats culled from various sources:
* According to Pew Research centers, out of all internet users, 67% are using social networks.
* 288 million people use Twitter every month. That’s 21% of the world’s internet population.
* 27% of total U.S. internet time is spent on social networking sites.
* YouTube has 1 billion unique monthly visitors, watching 6 billion hours of videos.
* Instagram has 100 million users, posting 4 billion photos.

If you ever had a doubt that social media would have a lasting presence in our culture, it’s time to put away that notion. Not only is social media an important factor in people’s individual lives (Posted any pictures of your teen in cap and gown? Kids romping on the beach? Political rants?), it has become an element in many disputes playing out in courtrooms across the country.

Take the case of two craft beer brewers, Kentucky’s West Sixth Brewing Co. and Vermont’s Magic Hat, squaring off in a trademark challenge. In a suit filed May 16 in U.S. District Court in Lexington, Kentucky, Magic Hat alleged that the West Sixth logo color and design are “confusingly similar” to theirs. (Judge for yourself here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/05/25/2653820/social-media-puts-west-sixth-magic.html.) West Sixth launched a social media campaign, including a petition which garnered more than 16,000 supporters in just three days.

University of Kentucky Assistant Professor Kakie Urch said, “That’s the very essence of social media: David can defeat Goliath if enough people jump into the slingshot, so to speak.” These days, it takes more than five smooth stones.

Last August, CNN reported on the dispute of an automobile crash victim’s family with Progressive Insurance. Their Tumblr post about the way their claim had been handled went viral, resulting in a significant out-of-court financial settlement. (http://money.cnn.com/2012/08/17/technology/progressive-settlement/index.html)
Despite these stories that seem to imply you could benefit from fighting your case in the court of public opinion, if you find yourself involved in a legal proceeding, personal injury or otherwise, you need to be aware that insurance companies and lawyers have learned to troll the internet waters for information that will bolster their case against you or help them defend your case against them. Remember these cautions:
* Just like you shouldn’t admit fault at the scene of an accident, you shouldn’t admit it in a Facebook or Twitter post.
* Don’t post photos or videos about your accident. Be very wary of posting any pictures of yourself, as they could be used as evidence that you weren’t as injured as you said you were.
* Your words can be used against you as well. “The nightlife at Myrtle Beach is awesome!” is not going to help your claim of a diminished quality of life.
* To the degree possible, adjust your privacy settings so that not everyone can see your postings.
* Most of all, follow your attorney’s recommendations about your use of social media. Chances are, they know of a case that was won or lost not by five smooth stones but by five unwise words.