Better Safe Than "Social"!

By Jessica L. Rafferty, Esq.

Social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace are becoming increasingly popular. Facebook currently has over 400 million users. Due to their popularity, these social networking websites can serve as a convenient way for people to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. But for many reasons, including involvement in legal matters, you should use caution when posting personal information on the Internet.

In particular, if you are making a claim because you have been injured, the information you post could negatively impact your case.

An injury can change your life. When you make a claim, your health and well-being become major factors in your case. In most cases, no matter whom your claim is against, an insurance company, with all of its resources, becomes involved in defending the claim. Traditionally, the insurance company had to hire private investigators to follow you and videotape your activities to gather evidence against you. Although the other side is entitled to know some of this information, your social networking page can provide personal details or impressions about you that could be misinterpreted and used to undermine your credibility.

For example, if you injured your back in an accident or at work and are unable to lift heavy objects, the insurance company will question the extent of your back injury. If you post a message that you are helping one of your friends move into a new home, even if your only contribution was wrapping small knick-knacks in bubble wrap, this information can be used to question your credibility. There is also the possibility that the information on your social networking page may simply be used to embarrass you at a hearing or in court.

If you think your personal information on a social networking page is protected, you're wrong. Regardless of your own privacy settings, photos and any comments about the photos could be viewed by people outside your network of "friends."

To avoid any pitfalls which may occur as a result of a profile on a social networking website, the best thing to do is to take down your page. If you are unwilling to do this, take the following steps to minimize any concerns. First, carefully review your site and remove anything that could be misinterpreted. Next, make sure that you have activated the privacy settings that enable you to block people who are not your "friends" from viewing your site. Finally, never accept "friend" requests or respond to emails from people you do not know.

Even if you are not currently involved in a legal matter, always be aware that postings on the Internet can be dangerous. Remember that total strangers can happen upon your personal information, so don't post information about your children or family or home. Just like you protect your personal financial information, protect your social networking page.