As social media becomes more commonplace in people's lives across the world, so too can the information shared and stored on these platforms be used to gain insight into their movements, feelings and experiences. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and others are valuable commodities in 21st century investigations.
Evidence gleaned from social media can be used in numerous ways in legal cases, be it as evidence of assets for divorce cases, evidence of parent's revenue and time commitments in child custodial issues, the online infrastructure used in online fraud, and the online profile of clients and potential defamatory content that is often commonplace in reputational issues. Furthermore it is likely as time moves on that exploiting digital evidence will become more and more critical to gaining insight into a client and case.
A recent case in the UK courts shows what happens when social media is not exploited sufficiently and diligently. A man's rape conviction has been overturned by the Court of Appeal after Facebook messages disproved the story given by the alleged victim that the sex was not consensual. These Facebook messages were available to the police at the time of the case but some of the exchange had been deleted by the complainant. The accused man's phone and laptop were available to the police but were seemingly not exploited. The convicted man has already spent four years in prison.
According to news reports the Metropolitan Police Service is now reviewing approximately 30 active sexual offence and child abuse investigations as a precaution.
Ensuring in the future that social media is seen as a legitimate source of evidence is paramount. Social media can be leveraged to show movement, intentions, revenue, and connections between individuals. What is important in the future is ensuring that any social media data retained for a legal case can be used in court and that all platforms are considered when asking for data from a potential client.
Police had downloaded the contents of complainants’ phones but failed to pass on the information they contained to the prosecution or defence, claiming thousands of messages were irrelevant.