Digital debris: What you say online can come back to haunt you
Online communication is leaving a trail of digital debris that could come back to haunt you.
From emails, Tweets, Facebook posts and other forms of technological interaction, they’re all leaving permanent records of your contact with others. It’s these records that could pose a problem in future.
According to Kitchener-based family lawyer Lorrie Stojni, posts and emails are fair game in court.
“If you’re in court, it’s about the facts, what does the evidence show, email or bank statement,” she says.
“A print copy of an email is considered evidence in court.”
The high-profile case of Jian Ghomeshi highlights the importance of keeping emails and other digital communication when it comes to legal proceedings.
His lawyer has presented 13-year-old emails that Ghomeshi kept from one of his accusers, in an attempt to discredit her.
It is not unusual that people hold on to those old online letters or messages.
University of Waterloo professor Ian Goldberg says there is no need to delete emails anymore because storage space is virtually unlimited.
“Disk space is approximately free. If you look at the difference between common disk sizes now compared to ten years ago, they are way bigger,” he says.
He adds that there is no point in deleting old messages because something you don’t want at the moment might turn out to be more valuable later on.
But it’s this digital trail of evidence that could discredit you down the road.
Take for instance the case of Ala Buzreba.
In April 2011, as teenager, she tweeted the message “your mother should have used that coat hanger” to an Israel supporter. Another post from her Twitter feed around the same time told a Twitter user to “Go blow your brains out you waste of sperm.”
Although the tweets were deleted, during her political campaign they were brought back out and contributed to her stepping down from running in the 2015 federal election.
Digital identity expert Cat Coode from Binary Tattoo says: “Everything you put online is permanent, beyond it being permanent it is also potentially public.”
If something you sent in a message or email is opened on multiple platforms, like a cell phone, a tablet and a computer, there are multiple copies being stored on any number of servers, and deleting it is extremely difficult.
“There are copies of electronic communications all over the place. In places that you don’t control, that you don’t even know where they are,” says Goldberg.
The best advice? All the experts we talked to say that if you’re really worried about something you send coming back to haunt you, you probably shouldn’t send it in the first place.