How Social Media Can Imperil Your Credibility
Quite a few trainers wind up serving as expert witnesses—either unwittingly, due to an excessive force allegation against one of their own officers—or by voluntarily entering into that arena after retirement. I’ve been in both circles: first as commander of force training and, in my later years, as a private trainer/consultant.
One of the areas where I’ve seen most private trainers fall into that imperial vortex of embarrassing moments is in the field of social media, specifically postings, conversations and contacts on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and other electronic media sites.
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As most of us know, when you serve as a testifying expert, just about everything you’ve ever written is discoverable. Because of this, I’ve specifically stayed away from any and all social media sites or forums. I’m not LinkedIn (much to the dismay of my peer trainers). I don’t have a Facebook page. I don’t Tweet. And I’ve never joined MySpace. Anyone who wants to reach me can call my office, my cell or email me. My close friends know my home number. And I do my professional networking at law enforcement conferences, in person.
If you’re considering venturing into the expert witness field, you might want to take a look at the power of Discovery under Federal Rule 26(b). Here’s the “why.”
Recently, I had the occasion to read the transcript of a deposition by a police procedures expert who’s on the opposing side (the plaintiffs’ side) of a case I’m working on. Even though we’re on opposing sides, I really felt sorry for this guy. He was subjected to one of the most vigorous and embarrassing cross examinations I’ve ever seen in my 20-plus years as an expert. All of this stemmed from several of his postings on social media websites. While the attorney who retained this expert could object “to the form of the question” all he wanted, the trainer had to answer every inquiry.
Funny thing, too. The most embarrassing comments weren’t actually made by him. The comments were in response to postings he’d made to someone else over an unrelated issue.
A word to the wise. When you’re retained as a testifying expert, everything you author, write, post or reply to is discoverable. Everything. So if you don’t mind that kind of digging into your personal life, then blog on, my friend. But don’t lose your head.