Inadmissibility of Social Media Printouts

United States v. Vayner 2014

2014 was a landmark year in establishing the admissibility and stance of screenshots and printouts of social media in litigation, with one of the more notable examples of this being the evaluation of a printout from the Russian equivalent of Facebook (VK.com) in United States v. Vayner.

Social Media Printout as Evidence

In this instance, the Second Circuit Court overruled the defendant’s conviction “on a single charge of transfer of a false identification document”. The Court held that the District Court had initially erred in accepting a mere printout of a social media page as admissible evidence, stating that the “government presented insufficient evidence that the page was what the government claimed it to be – that is, Zhyltsou’s [named Defendant’s] profile page, as opposed to a profile page on the Internet that Zhyltsou did not create or control”.

Although the connection the government attempted to make was between Zhyltsou and the email address used for accessing the social media account in question, it was held that there was no substantial or admissible evidence to account for the printout provided as having been authored by the defendant or in any other way deemed as authentic evidence.

Witness Testimony v. Rule of Authentication

Although the leading detective in this case provided a testimony in support of the images and name on the social media account matching the Defendant’s identity, this was deemed not to be satisfactory circumstantial evidence in favour of authenticating the document.

Rule 901, Federal Rules of Evidence require that there be some basis beyond a witness testimony on which a reasonable juror could conclude that the page in question was not just any Internet page, but in fact the authentic page of whom the Plaintiff claimed it to be. No such showing was made and the evidence should therefore have been excluded.

For social media evidence, “the proponent must produce evidence sufficient to support a finding that the term is what the proponent claims it is”.

The court took this ruling to, once again, provide a definition of Rule 901 authentication standards; a reasonable juror must be in favour of authentication and that this level of authentication is context specific.

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The information and materials on this blog are provided for general and informative purposes only and are not intended to be construed as legal advice. Content on this blog is not intended to substitute the advice of a licensed attorney, as laws are subject to change and vary with time, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Content on this blog may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct or up-to-date.

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