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Social Media Case Law: Vasquez-Santos v Mathew

Social media is a great place to catch up with old friends and keep family members up-to-date on your life. It is also a great place to conduct investigations as well! Many people live with the false idea that social media content is private and/or cannot be used in court. However, pictures and posts made on social media are allowed as evidence in court, even if they are “private”. 

Social Media Investigations help expose potential fraud and shine a light on false and dishonest claims. In the case we will explore today, Vasquez-Santos v. Mathew, private social media evidence made a difference in the outcome of the case.

How Social Media Investigations for “Private” Content Changed the Case

In the case, Vasquez-Santos v. Mathew, a central point at issue was whether private social media information was discoverable/allowable in court. The plaintiff in the case was at one point, a semi-professional basketball player. He claimed he became disabled as a result of a car accident and could no longer play basketball. 

Through an extensive social media investigation, the defendant found contradicting evidence. They submitted social media pictures of the plaintiff playing basketball after the accident. In these pictures, the plaintiff was “tagged” by friends.

The plaintiff claimed these were old photos and were thus inadmissible. In response, the defendant requested an order to have a third-party data mining company be given access to the subject’s private content to investigate these claims.

The trial court denied this request. However, the appellate court reversed that decision and allowed access to the plaintiff’s private content due to its probative value and the defense’s right to any content which would show the defendant performing physical activities. 

Their ruling, along with many others, further shows that private social media evidence can be discoverable, so long as it “contradicts or conflicts with a plaintiff’s alleged restrictions, disabilities, and losses, and other claims” (Patterson v Turner Const. Co., 88 AD3d 617, 618 [1st Dept 2011]). In this case, the court granted the defendant the access to this private Facebook information to defend against the plaintiff’s claims of injury.

It is also of particular interest to note that in this case the plaintiff did not post the original photos in question himself, they were taken by a friend and he was only tagged in them. The court found it was “of no import” that the plaintiff did not personally take or post the photos, because “he was ‘tagged’ thus allowing him access to” the content.

Expectations of Privacy in Social Media

What does this mean in regards to expectations of privacy on social media? This case follows an established body of social media case law that private social media content is discoverable, as long as it is relevant to the case. As such, litigants can use social media investigations in their cases to gather concrete evidence and their content is not protected just because they think they made it “private”. 

Over the years, Facebook and other social media platforms have made some adjustments to their sites. These adjustments made their platforms more secure by protecting user privacy. As such, social media investigators have had to adjust as well. Social media investigators now use a wide variety of tools and techniques to help them identify and capture thousands of social media posts that may be relevant to the case, regardless of what the users think of as “private”.

Just having access to the posts is often insufficient though as rough screen grabs are not enough to properly authenticate evidence in court. As such, law firms and insurance companies should rely on the expertise of a social media investigations company for this type of investigation. Social media investigators can gain the necessary proof of content authenticity and authorship. This will prevent a case’s social media evidence from being thrown out.

Contact Our Social Media Investigation Team for Your Case

Bosco Legal Services, Inc. has been conducting investigations since 1988, and over the last 10 years have become recognized leaders in Social Media Investigations. We offer our services to law firms, insurance companies, and businesses. We gather and use the valuable social media evidence needed to win their cases. Our investigators can then help authenticate this social media data to help defend against inflated injury claims and fraud.

If you need help gathering social media evidence, we are here to help. Contact our social media investigators at (877) 353-8281 to discuss your situation. You can also fill out our online contact form, and someone from our office will be in touch with you soon.