Legal Evidence and the Growth of Social Networks

I’ve been noticing more and more social networking sites appearing recently. I also came across an interesting article on what online interactions and social networks may mean to the legal industry. First, a look at the article, and then some links to news about new social networks. Finally, a quick look at a patent application that aims at making it easier to find communities online.

Social Networks and Rules of Evidence

The article is one I came across on First Monday and it looks at the use of information from profiles, blogs, and social networks as evidence in MySpace on the record: The admissibility of social website content under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

The article presents a number of hypothetical fact patterns; a sexual predator contacting a juvenile online and attempting to kidnap her, a blogger writing about a defective product, and someone using eBay to fence items. It then describes how evidence culled from those situations, gathered on social networking sites and forums and blogs might potentially be used as evidence in a products liability case, and in a couple of different criminal prosecutions.

The three legal doctrines that it looks at involving online evidence are authentication, the hearsay rule, and the best evidence rule.

Authentication is trickiest of the three. How do you tie together the statement made with a real person who may or may not have made it? When someone creates a MySpace profile under a certain name, how do you prove that they are who they say they are? That problem presents itself in forums, blogs, blog comments, and other places on the web.

The Hearsay Rule involves entering statements as evidence that were made outside of the courtroom to prove the truth of some particular matter. For example, someone blogs about all of the problems that they may have had with a mobile phone, and someone else has similar problems and sues the manufacturer. If they try to use the blog posts as evidence to show that there is sometype of product defect, that evidence may be barred from being introduced because it is hearsay. Since the blogger made the statements outside of the courtroom (and not under oath), and they aren’t present to testify, the reliability of the evidence is questioned.

The Best Evidence Rule looks to use original documents to use as evidence instead of copies. A printout of a blog or forum post, or MySpace profile may be considered to be an original under court rulings if it accurately shows the data in question.

New Social Networks

A quick look around Google News showed press releases announcing new social networks at a fast clip. Here are some that I saw:

Sports Illustrated has teamed up with Takkle.com to create a sports related social network for high school students.

A Social Job Search Engine, Whototalkto.com, allows people to share job leads, according to its founder.

I’m wondering how many new social networks are starting up each week.

Finding Social Networks

When I saw the following patent application a couple of weeks ago, I wondered if there would be a use for it. Guess there might be:

Method and apparatus for distributed community finding
Invented by Alice Hwei-Yuan Meng Muntz and Behnam Attaran Rezaei
Assigned to Pekua, Inc.
US Patent Application 20060271564
Published November 30, 2006
Filed May 10, 2005

Abstract

Methods and apparatus for a new approach to the problem of finding communities in complex networks relating to a social definition of communities and percolation are disclosed.

Instead of partitioning the graph into separate subgraphs from top to bottom a local algorithm (communities of each vertex) allows overlapping of communities. The performance of an algorithm on synthetic, randomly-generated graphs and real-world networks is used to benchmark this method against others.

An heuristic is provided to generate a list of communities for networks using a local community finding algorithm. Unlike diffusion based algorithms, The provided algorithm finds overlapping communities and provides a means to measure confidence in community structure.

It features locality and low complexity for exploring the communities for a subset of network nodes, without the need for exploring the whole graph.

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One thought on “Legal Evidence and the Growth of Social Networks”

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