Appearing Happy On Social Media Can Be Used Against You In Court

by
Jessica Renae Buxbaum
Think twice before uploading a smiling selfie because the photo could be used against you.

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Facebook is a hub of optimism with exciting news shared in status updates, vacation photos, relationships going from single to married and lots of birthday wishes, but is the site’s joy overload online really mean every user is 100 percent happy offline? According to a court of law, yes, how blissful you appear on social media equates your emotional stability in real life.  

In 2006, a Long Island high school teacher, Danny Cuesta, sexually assaulted a 15-year-old student, “Melissa.” Cuesta was sentenced to 15 months in jail and Melissa sued Cuesta, the school district and school officials seeking damages for “repeated sexual injury and assault," “emotional distress” and “loss of enjoyment of life.”

However, when attorneys for the school district snooped around Melissa’s Facebook activity they found only happy photos of Melissa partying with friends, going on awesome outdoor adventures and hanging out with her boyfriend — all indications that life was just fine for Melissa.

Other cases of sexual assault, workplace discrimination and injury have had victims’ profiles and social media activity meticulously analyzed and often used as ways to show the survivor is in no way living an unhappy life. In one such case, a former general manager of Home Depot in Burbank, California sued for gender discrimination saying she was wrongly fired and experienced isolation from her friends. Home Depot scoured through her Facebook postings only to find tons of cheerful “Happy Birthday” greetings written on her wall. All the b-day attention surely means she is no way living life as a social reject, right?

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The law’s interpretation of social media activity as a predictor of one’s well-being in the real world is hugely misguided. As the 2012 paper published in the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law, notes Facebook users post things that make them appear “attractive” and “fun.” Not only does no one want to put their depressing moments on display, most people aren’t too sympathetic to those that do post too many “woe is me” emojis in turn creating a community run by a fake, peer-pressured happiness (although in reality we are all probably crying on the inside).

Fortunately, some judges are realizing the absolute absurdity that how you present yourself on social media predicts how you are actually doing. In 2013, U.S. Magistrate Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson of the Eastern District of New York restricted using a plaintiff’s social media activity that highlighted her emotional well-being.

“The fact that an individual may express some degree of joy, happiness, or sociability on certain occasions sheds little light on the issue of whether he or she is actually suffering emotional distress,” Tomlinson wrote.

Exactly true. We all want to seem like we are floating by with ease and portray this peaceful mindset on our Facebook pages, but the courts need to understand there is more than meets the eye. 

Read more: UAE Imprisons Florida Man Over A Facebook Post He Made In The U.S.

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