As a public, real-time record of what people are doing and thinking, Twitter can be a tremendous resource for gathering evidence. As police have already learned, anything you tweet can potentially be used against you in a court of law.
But how can you go about gathering, storing, and getting Twitter posts or data admitted into evidence in your own criminal or civil case?
It can get a bit tricky, but here are a few general tips for using tweets as evidence in court:
1. Dig Deep.
Beyond the personal information made available by the words and images that a person posts on Twitter, there is a trove of other information that can be gathered from a Twitter profile as well such as:
- Times and dates of posts;
- Associations with those who are following that person, or being followed by that person on Twitter; and
- Methods or posting (e.g., from a mobile device or from Twitter's website).
This information can be key for providing context for other evidence, impeaching the testimony of witnesses, or constructing timelines for events. Geo-tagged data in a Twitter post can also potentially provide an alibi for someone falsely accused of a crime.
2. Preserve the Evidence.
The easiest way to preserve evidence that may be useful that you find on Twitter is to take a screenshot of it and print it out, creating a hard copy in the event that the person makes their account private or erases the post.
3. Have a Way to Authenticate the Evidence.
Any evidence that is obtained from Twitter will still need to be authenticated, which is more complicated than just showing that it was posted from a specific person's account. To link a post with a specific person, you will likely have to show that the person actually posted the words or pictures in question to the account by himself or herself.
The easiest way is to authenticate Twitter evidence is to get the person to admit that he or she posted it. But there are other ways, such as having a witness who saw them post it, or by providing other circumstantial evidence (such as showing the computer it was posted from was theirs or through distinctive characteristics of the post itself).
4. Is the Tweet Considered Hearsay?
What exactly are you trying to prove with the tweet you've saved? If it's to prove the truth of whatever was stated in the tweet (for example, "I took Bob's money and don't intend to return it"), then there's a good chance it will be considered hearsay. If the tweet is deemed to be hearsay, then a court may not allow it unless you can show that it fits into one of many hearsay exceptions.
Need More Help?
Because issues like hearsay and authentication can get complicated, you'll probably want some professional guidance before you try to introduce Twitter evidence in court. If you believe such evidence might play a key role in your case, an experienced attorney can help you locate the evidence you need and figure out the best ways to use it in your favor.
- Legal How-To: Using Facebook as Evidence (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- 8 Ways Twitter Has Gotten Celebrities in Trouble (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
- Yes, Bad Twitter Jokes Can Get You Fired (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Twitter Will Give You Up to the Cops 75% of the Time (FindLaw's Technologist)