Can Defendants Delete or Hide Social Media Data When Facing a Lawsuit?

deleted social media post

Every state’s laws are different, and once information is removed from the web, there usually is not much to be done in terms of recovering it.

There is a truism that nothing ever really disappears from the web. However, this does not always apply to the law. While each state’s laws are different, in general, once information is removed from the web, the chances of retrieval are diminished significantly. This is especially true of social media profiles and posts.

the information is still there – and accessible if needed, but only to authorized law enforcement officials

For instance, a law firm may discover that a Facebook profile or post that is vital to a case has disappeared. It may simply be a case of someone changing their privacy settings. Or they may have temporarily deactivated their profiles. In such cases, the information is still there – and accessible if needed, but only to authorized law enforcement officials. Law firms that wish to obtain information from hidden posts or deactivated profiles must attempt to gain the cooperation of the subject or, more likely, obtain a subpoena.

Data from hidden or deleted social media posts can sometimes be retrieved through hashtags or reposted items from third parties, such as retweets or tags. Short-lived postings on Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter can often be retrieved this way, especially if they have gone viral. Less ethical means of obtaining hidden social media data include “hacking” a person’s account or “friending” them with the intent of gaining access. Such tactics are legally questionable at best and every effort should be taken to ensure they are not used.

In the most extreme cases, someone may permanently delete their profile, in which case it disappears from Facebook’s servers forever after 90 days. At that point, the information no longer exists — and is irretrievable even to law enforcement or with a court order.

On the other hand, material that has been removed from the web is somewhat more accessible. The Internet Archive is a virtual treasure trove of web content, videos, software, journals, and other content. The Wayback Machine is one of the most accessible parts of the site. Multiple versions of deleted webpages can often be retrieved by typing the URL in the search bar. If that doesn’t work, Google may have cached versions of the page in question.

Of course, the best way to retrieve hidden or deleted data is to capture the data before it has been obscured or destroyed. Turning to a trusted third party, such as SMI Aware, to preserve vital social media or webpage evidence is often the most cost-effective solution and can provide the quickest turnaround and best results. Most importantly, the process and procedure a pro has in place makes the research repeatable and ensures the data’s quality and integrity. While third parties often are unable to recover deleted posts, SMI Aware specializes in locating and preserving internet evidence, especially when engaged early in the process.

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