What lawyers need to know about social media and eDiscovery

What lawyers need to know about social media and eDiscovery

In today’s wired world, electronic discovery, or eDiscovery, is something every firm needs to be equipped to handle. While law firms are already used to going through email, blogs, and websites for case-related information, many are still struggling with the eDiscovery process among the different social media platforms.

Seven or eight years ago, Facebook and Twitter were mostly used by people under 30. But now that's no longer the case: 81% of the US population already has a social media profile. As more companies and individuals engage on social media, the more we need to be savvy on what information we can discover on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and other social media accounts.

eDiscovery and ESI

Electronic discovery is the process whereby electronic data or “electronically stored information” (ESI) is collected and organized, with the intent of using it as evidence in a legal case. When a complaint is filed in court, a company or person has a duty to preserve relevant information to the case, including ESI. You probably already know this, but all data and activity on social media platforms fall under ESI.

How much data is posted to social media?

Given the nature of social media, users are encouraged to engage in their platform as often and for as long as possible. This gives rise to a huge volume and variety of information available.

  • The variety of data -- Social media platforms allow users to upload and share everything from basic text to photos and videos. Different file formats contain different metadata (like timestamps, titles and descriptions, tags, categories, geolocation, last modified, and more) which can be useful to an investigation.
  • The volume of data -- Status updates and tweets can rack up in the millions. Many users use Instagram or Facebook as their online photo libraries. One user's profile can easily contain thousands of posts related to a case, so social media accounts may contain several gigabytes worth of data.

The challenges of obtaining data on social media

There are three common ways in which electronic data is captured, each with their pros and cons:

The most basic way to capture data is to either take a screenshot or print out the data.

  • PRO: It is the fastest and cheapest way to gather information. It may even be good enough for internal investigations.
  • CON: A lot of data cannot be captured this way, and authenticating the information may be difficult.

Another strategy is to use the self-service features of the social media platform. For example, Facebook has a “Download Your Information” feature, which allows users to receive an aggregated copy of all their information stored on that platform. Twitter also has an archive which contains all tweets, retweets, and other data about the user.

  • PRO: It is a quick and painless way to download a ton of data.
  • CONS: This method can be done only by the account holder, or someone with permission. These self-service features are primarily for users to access their information, not for forensic use. The data dump can be a mixture of files and formats, making it difficult to sort them out. Or they’re downloaded onto a single PDF file, leaving out lot of metadata.

A third option is to use a specialized forensic collection software. This type of tool allows a third party to comb through social media accounts and collect relevant information.

  • PRO: These software tools can capture almost every information from every type of social media post, including metadata. They can also search, sort, and filter data with ease.
  • CON: Purchasing these tools is expensive and requires a trained professional to use them.

eDiscovery made easy

Gathering data from social media platforms can be quite daunting, given the nature and amount of information available on these sites. You or your law firm can be faced with a number of challenges: How much data do we need for our case? What kind of data is necessary? How can we authenticate the data we capture? Is the data reliable? Is it admissible?

We at Legal Imaging have the expertise and experience to help you navigate the ins and outs of ESI, especially on social media. Let us take care of the technical side of capturing and authenticating information for you. If you’re in and around Mobile, Alabama, call us today about optimizing your eDiscovery process.