For years Internet users have been operating under a misconception. We have treated web-content as something ephemeral — especially when we are the originator of that content. We will write things in e-mails that we never would have put into old-fashioned paper correspondence. We tweet things we might not be inclined to say to a large group of people. We publicly post pictures on Facebook cavalierly that we wouldn't want our parents to see in private. To most, that cyber-world is “someplace else” — an alternate universe that we can visit but that does not otherwise impinge on our "real world." We've come to discover that such a view is not just wrong — but really wrong, tragically wrong, dangerously wrong.
While traditional "real world" lampshade-on-the-head at-the Christmas-party mishaps might fill us with more angst, such faux pas, though concrete, were actually limited in time and space and audience. Conversely, while the electronic flickers of technology may appear a candle in the wind, it turns out that an errant tweet may have as much permanency as the pyramids as Giza.
In short, we need to understand that the real world and the cyber universe are not separate places. Lawyers, who have won or lost a law suit because of social media, have been awakened to this reality.
This is why most litigators have come to understand what a powerful discovery tool social media sites are. However, those who have attempted to subpoena information from the likes of Facebook or Twitter know that, while the desired information is likely there, getting it from one of the social media providers is not easy. But is the day coming where searching social media archives will be relatively simple?
One harbinger of easy access is a deal struck between Twitter and the Library of Congress for all tweets made between 2006 and 2010 – that’s 170 billion it you are counting. While the search time for the 133,000 gigabytes currently takes days to search, the information is there and is searchable.
If you think that the Library of Congress plan is ambitious, the LOC UK-equivalent, the British Library, has its sights set on archiving the entire web.
While this massive amount of (now searchable) information represents a potential boon for e-discovery, it also serves as a reminder to think before you (or your client) tweet, post or pin.