Friday, June 26, 2009

Watch Where You Tread Before Making a Digital Footprint

Think of the Web as Your Nosey Kid Brother Who Remembers Everything Behind the safety of a computer screen, many internet users might find bravado, masked as courage, to say things that normally they would not say in polite company. Sitting at your laptop in your underwear, it might be difficult to remember that you are not really alone when you post your thoughts. The supposed anonymity of the internet may give you the encouragement to post a snarky comment, ranting or even to pick a fight with someone. Sure you have the guts to ridicule the views of some large neanderthal skinhead from the UK in an anonymous chatroom. Could you do the same face to face? You may complain about your boss on the web, but would you do so in a board meeting? We can easily forget that a potentially vast number of people have the ability to stumble across our thoughts. With applications like Twitter, many use the internet almost like a daily diary. Unfortunately, the world is your bratty little brother and he just found the key. He wants to share your innermost thoughts and those embarrassing photos of you in Cabo with everyone he can. No amount of noogies will stop him. A Digital Footprint Frozen For the Ages When you post something on the internet, try to remember that you are creating a fossilized digital footprint that is just waiting for future readers to discover. Experts warn that information on the internet is rather difficult to erase. Some of it may be stuck there frozen in cyberspace for the ages. You may want to try “Googling” yourself. Are there photos of you doing keg stands in college? Is there anything you wouldn’t want your client or your mother to see? Is your information up to date? Do websites have you listed at your old law firm? Of course, a digital footprint could have far more reaching effects than potential embarrassment. It might be something to warn your clients about. The word around the watercooler is that agencies like the I.R.S. are using the internet to investigate tax evaders. Imagine claiming no income only to have a Facebook page photo with you on your new yacht. Or perhaps an insurance adjuster happens across a youtube video of your supposedly injured client waterskiing or lifting weights. It can effect your criminal clients just as easily. Investigators often find parole violations on Facebook, myspace and other social networking sites. In Illinois, a college student charged in a DUI related crash had a judge reading the captions of her Facebook photos passed out drunk at a party. " 'Erika passed out in my bed. Ha Ha,' " the judge said, quoting one of the captions. Hal Turner, a New Jersey blogger is facing charges of inciting violence against a few state law makers. Connecticut Public Broadcasting reports “The charges stem from a post earlier this month. Turner urged readers in Connecticut to "take up arms and put down this tyranny by force." And that the lawmakers should "obey the Constitution or die." He then threatened to release their home addresses. On the civil side of things, some law firms have gotten into the cyber libel game. In Connecticut, an East Hartford Swimming coach successfully sued a student’s mother over a malicious e-mail campaign in which the mother repeatedly referred to the coach as a pedophile. The mother will now have to cough up $88,000 dollars for her online rants. So be careful out there. It can cost you more than you think.


Anonymous said...

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Irene Olszewski, Esq. said...

What is just as frightening (and annoying) are those websites you've never heard of and never would endorse ... the ones that have chosen to link to YOUR respectable business website ... although you'd never in a million years agree to it if someone bothered to ask you. When I google my website, I am constantly amazed at the number of times I am listed on websites I'd prefer not to be listed on. Poker sites, for example. I'm not even sure why they want to link to my site. It's not as if I reciprocate!

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Family Law Portal said...

It's amazing how much social media is impacting all aspects of people's lives. In Australian family law (an area I research) it's estimated that photos/comments from social media are being used to discredit people in 20% of Family Court proceedings. In the UK, a spouse’s behaviour on Facebook is now cited in a third of UK divorces in which unreasonable behaviour was a factor. Unfortunately, social media's impact on family law does not stop there - as it’s also now a major tool for divorce-related bullying (e.g. continuing communication, posting nasty messages, hacking accounts, etc). More: Family & The Law (Family Law Portal)