As Facebook has grown more popular and people have become more comfortable updating their profiles with increasingly detailed personal information, the social network has become a primary background research tool for lawyers and police.
Divorce attorneys routinely use Facebook to search for clues about a spouse’s infidelity and police departments use Facebook people searches to find people with outstanding warrants.
According to Columbus, OH divorce attorney Jennifer Joseph Facebook searches are a powerful online tool for her profession.
A 2010 survey of divorce attorneys found that 81 percent say they have seen an increase in the number of divorce cases that use evidence found on social networks over the past five years.
According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Facebook is the leading provider of evidence in divorce cases.
A whopping 66 percent AAML attorneys say Facebook is their their primary source of evidence.
MySpace and Twitter searches both ranked behind Facebook as sources of evidence in divorce cases.
Pictures, profile updates, posts and timelines can all be used against a person involved in an investigation or court case.
People are often shocked to learn that their Facebook posts can be used against them in legal matters.
Bill Hedrick, Columbus City Attorney chief of staff, says that Facebook searches are the primary tool used by the city’s stalking unit in criminal cases.
He also noted a case where the police had an outstanding drunk driving warrant on a woman. They posted her information on their website. Someone then found the woman on Facebook and sent them a link to her profile and in her Facebook profile that showed a picture of her with an alcoholic drink in her hands.
People unknowingly make themselves trackable with their Facebook status updates.
Hedrick said they have successfully located people with outstanding arrest warrants through their Facebook profile updates.
According to Hedrick, social network searches are the latest crime fighting tool that his office uses.
He said that a number of employees are allowed to use Facebook for investigating criminal cases.
The city attorney’s office uses Facebook to investigate stalking charges, drunk driving, stalking, petty theft and domestic violence.
According to Hedrick, the city attorney’s office recently set up their own Facebook page for posting information on their most-wanted list.
According to the Department of Justice, Facebook information is being used in federal cases as well.
Federal agents do a people search on Facebook to locate a person or find evidence in federal cases. They also review posted pictures for evidence of stolen property. In addition, federal agents use Twitter feeds and status updates to validate alibis and use Facebook searches in private background checks.
Employment lawyers are also using Facebook to find evidence against people collecting disability from a work-related accident. Pictures or profile updates detailing sports, strenuous exercise or other demanding physical activity can be used against people making disability claims.
One attorney admitted that she always starts out with a new client by asking them: “Is there anything on your Facebook account that you would not like a judge to read out loud in a courtroom?”
She said most people answer “Yes” to her Facebook question.
[ Source: The Other Paper ]