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Want to know what the applicant is really up to?

Look for her Twitter posts, or other social networking trail.

By Stephen Roberts


The applicant who you think is exaggerating her complaints may be publishing all her activities for her friends to see, and it might also be possible for you to read accounts of her trip to Disneyland or Mardi Gras. All in her own words. A recent WCAB panel decision describes allowing defendant to use applicant's posts to her Twitter account, as evidence that her activities were inconsistent with her claims that she was totally permanently disabled. Wenneker v. County of Contra Costa, et al., No. ADJ2954617, 12/17/09. Ms. Wenneker's case went to trial and she testified among other things that she did not leave her room for weeks at a time and does not socialize. After the case was submitted for decision, but before the decision issued, defendant found evidence in Ms. Wenneker's own words of activities that would seem inconsistent with her description of her activity level. She described a "wicked and wild Mardi Gras vacation" and an Academy Awards party she attended. These activities were described on Twitter and other online sites. Defendant sought to augment the trial record with the evidence of applicant's activities in her own words. The trial judge declined to allow them to add this evidence after trial, but defendant filed a Petition for Removal and the WCAB granted their request to add the information from Twitter to the record.


The decision from the WCAB discusses the basis for allowing the addition of evidence after trial, but in my eyes the most interesting part of this case is where defendant obtained the information about applicant's activities. There have been other types of cases where evidence was obtained from social networking sites such as Twitter. There is even a murder case in New York where the Twitter conversations between the victim and the person accused of murdering him are being used as evidence in the trial. As more and more people use services like Twitter, there will be more and more situations where the information contained there will be used as evidence in many types of cases. Right now no one thinks twice about hearing that telephone records were used as evidence, and we may reach that point soon as it relates to a persons online trail of their activities.


Before giving some ideas on how to dig up this information, it is probably worthwhile to describe what a social networking site is, and what it may contain. Wikipedia describes social networking as consisting "of a representation of each user (often a profile), his/her social links, and a variety of additional services. Most social network services are web based and provide means for users to interact over the Internet, such as e-mail and instant messaging." Social network service, (last visited Mar. 16, 2010). This definition fits sites like Facebook, and MySpace, but does not really describe Twitter. Wikipedia defines Twitter as "a social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to the author's subscribers who are known as followers. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access." Twitter, (last visited Mar. 16, 2010). As awkward as it may be to use the word "tweet", that is what posts on Twitter are called, and that is how we will refer to them.


It may seem that trying to find information on an applicant at a social networking site is not likely to be productive, and I would agree that you will probably see a very low percentage of results at this time. I don't know if that is going to continue to be true in the future. The number of users of sites like this continues to rise. In January 2010, Twitter was the 12th busiest website in the United States. Worldwide there are 50 million tweets per day. In January 2010, Facebook had 133,623,529 unique visitors to their site. This is up from 68,557,534 in January 2009. That means its use almost doubled in one year. Over that same time period visits to Twitter increased by four times. Just so we can understand what this means in terms of a trend, over the same time period visits to decreased by 20% to 26,893,051. (All statistics from So right now an applicant may not be using a social networking site, but the chance of them doing so in the future is going up. I was an early user of Facebook, but I had a friend who recently joined tell me that it allowed her to connect with old friends from high school, and then remember why she lost touch with them in the first place.


The likelihood that your applicant is using Facebook or Twitter depends on who they are, and you may want to selectively look for applicants based on that likelihood. Only 9% of Twitter users live in rural areas, while 35% live in what would be described as an urban area. The median age of Twitter users is 31, and the median age for Facebook is 27, while MySpace comes in with a median age of 26. It takes just moments to see if you can find someone on one of these sites and see if they have their posts set so that anyone can read them. You will still want to look for the 30 year old living in San Francisco before the seventy year old who lives in Exeter (it's rural, trust me).


How do you look for information about applicants at these sites? The links to some possible websites to search are listed below. You will need to get an account for yourself on each of the websites you want to use for your search, other than Google, Bing or Yahoo Search. The accounts are free, but I would suggest that if you use any of these sites in your personal life, that you set up another account that includes no real information about yourself, to use for searching for applicants. Also consider changing your personal privacy settings so that only friends can look at your information, so that applicants cannot find any of your personal information. You will only be able to read posts from an applicant who has not changed privacy settings to allow only their friends to see their posts, but the default privacy settings normally allow anyone to look at posts, and many people do not adjust the privacy settings because they just don't think about it. I have also listed links to popular search engines because you can often find a person's Facebook page by searching on their name in a regular search engine. One other thing to keep in mind is that if you have an applicant's email address that often makes it easier to search for them without getting a lot of false positive results. A search for "John Smith" on Facebook returns over 500 results, but if you had an email address you would get only one result, or no result at all.


Each of the sites has a search box on the front page after you become a member. There are also more specific ways to search for other members. If you do not want to get an account, some of the sites allow Google and other search engines to obtain information on users, so that if you search for someone's name on Google, Bing, or Yahoo Search, their Facebook page could show up as one of the results. You would not be able to look at it without having an account of your own, but you would at least know in advance if there was possibly something to find. Search results will only show a Facebook page if the person you are searching for has not changed their privacy settings to not allow their information to be obtained by the search sites. If they have gone to the trouble to make these changes, you probably will not be able to look at their posts without being their friend anyway.


If you ultimately do find an applicant on Facebook, or Twitter, but there is nothing useful in their posts don't give up. Look for pictures of them doing strenuous activities. Facebook makes it very easy to upload pictures, and a picture of applicant water skiing is just as useful as a written description. Finally, save the link to their page so you can check back later. You never know what you may learn after Mardi Gras, or the Oscars.



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