On April 30, 2015, the Indiana Court of Appeals handed down a decision addressing tweets as evidence. The defendant was convicted on two counts of murder and felony conspiracy to commit gang activity. Tweets that were allegedly posted by the defendant indicating his involvement in gang activity and possession of handguns were allowed into evidence.
The court upheld that the tweets were properly authenticated to be used as evidence. The court states that using Federal Rule of Evidence 901(b)(4), electronic data can be authenticated through: 1) Testimony of a Witness with Knowledge and 2) Distinctive Characteristics and the Like (“appearance, contents, substance, internal patterns, or other distinctive characteristics of the item, taken together with all the circumstances”).
While there was no direct electronic evidence connecting the defendant to the Twitter account, a witness testified that it belonged to him based on her general knowledge of the account by its name. Additionally pictures on the account matching the guns used in the crime and mentions of a gang the witness identified him as being associated with were posted on the account.
As a result, the court stated: “Consequently, we think that taken together, the witness testimony identifying the Twitter account as belonging to Wilson and the content posted on the account, including pictures and gang references, are more than sufficient to authenticate the Twitter posts as being authored by Wilson.”
Here at Step Ahead Social Research, we highly recommend you download potentially useful social media data for a case as soon as you possibly can if there’s any chance you think it may need to be admitted into evidence down the line. Once we collect the data into our software systems, we have preserved all public posts and associated metadata for future even if they are later removed.
Metadata includes information about the specific account it was posted from, as well as date, time and geographic location if it was geographically tagged. While this may not be able to positively ID which individual is running the account, it helps authenticate the postings, together with witness testimony or affirmation during deposition. For example, it eliminates the possibility that an image or text was altered or “Photoshopped” and can provide an alibi, speak to credibility, refute a claim, demonstrate financial ability, refute injury and more.
For help preserving public social media postings, collecting metadata and authenticating social media postings, including Facebook posts, tweets, YouTube videos and Instagram pictures, call us at 317-721-8660 or email lyn AT socialmediainvestigation.com.