A recent decision out of Bucks County Pennsylvania helps to flesh out the law of social media and its use at trial in Pennsylvania. The opinion is simply a paragraph long.
I reported on one other Pennsylvania case in a prior blog post. In that case, McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc, Facebook evidence was admitted. The new case is Piccolo v. Paterson and in it the Judge denied access to the Facebook pages the defense desired.
In Piccolo, a car accident case, the defense wanted access to pictures on Facebook. Defense states in filings that plaintiff claimed the pictures were publicly available on her Facebook page, but when the defense visited the page it claimed it could not view the pictures. The defense requested, through counsel, that plaintiff accept a friend request so the pictures would be viewable, and plaintiff refused.
The refusal set up a request to compel access to the Facebook account. In denying access the Judge noted that the defense had numerous photos of the plaintiff, and also, had no evidence that the pictures of the plaintiff on Facebook would be useful to its defense.
Why is Piccolo Different from McMillen?
The Judge, in comparing McMillen noted that in McMillen the information on Facebook was publicly available and showed contrary statements on the part of the plaintiff.
The ruling by Judge Cepparulo makes clear that the failure to show a prima facie case of why the information from Facebook would be necessary under the rules of evidence, compared with the privacy rights and risk of unreasonable annoyance, embarrassment, oppression or burden to the plaintiff.
The law of social media is simply too new at this point to draw too many conclusions. But it is a settled concept that we don’t allow the opposing party to go on a fishing expedition into someone’s private life simply because information might be there. It is reasonable for the court to require some evidentiary basis as to the necessity of access to Facebook prior to providing that access.
This leads me to again provide this bit of advice. People need to be very careful what they post on Facebook, and also, they need to make sure their privacy settings are correct.
See the Legal Intelligencer article (paid subscription required.)