This past Monday a jury sharply reduced the amount awarded to a car crash victim after the jury saw the victim’s Twitter messages. The tweets spoke of an upcoming “epic weekend” in New Orleans. The victim had also tweeted pictures of her and friends at a beach for spring break. These messages weren’t contrary to the woman’s testimony about her physical injuries. But they did seem to show she hadn’t suffered emotionally. Some courtwatchers think the conservative jury may have felt a large financial award would be wasted on partying. The woman sought $1.1 million; the jury awarded her $142,000.00, which will hardly cover her outstanding medical bills. She does have permanent injuries, and emotional scarring, but the jury apparently thought the Twitter messages told a different story.
It’s a wakeup call about the effect of Facebook or Twitter postings on lawsuits, as well as careers. Few of us think twice about what we post. It’s mostly top-of-the-head, say-it-when-we-think-it kind of stuff. The social media sites encourage that. Facebook is our modern thought journal, our diary of everything we think, when we think it. And our postings are very public, for many to read and, if they choose, to keep, copy, paste and forward. Forget “privacy settings.” That won’t help us. In fact, such settings do little more than create the illusion of privacy, falsely lulling us into thinking we have control over what we post once we post it.
The real privacy setting is our own self-control. We need to self-edit before we press send, submit, post or tweet. Is it true? Do I mean it? Can it be taken out of context? Might it affect me if it’s forwarded to the wrong person? Am I confident those who read it will protect my interests? Could it be taken the wrong way? Is this really something I want my coworkers to read (if they’re sprinkled throughout your friends list)? And, might the answers to all these questions be different five or ten years from now? Think, and think ahead, before you post.
Here are my top five tips to keep in mind as you post, tweet, blog and submit in 2013 – all for the sake of your career and possibly for your lawsuit. Read each one carefully.
1. Everything you post is public. Nothing you post is private
2. Everything you post is public. Nothing you post is private.
3. Everything you post is public. Nothing you post is private.
4. Everything you post is public. Nothing you post is private.
5. (You know what #5 is, don’t you?)