From sharing photos/videos and expressing your thoughts to communicating with loved ones and keeping up with current events, social media has become a part of our everyday life in this day and age. However, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have been used to create a hostile environment at schools and harass students.
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That is why social media can have an impact on Title IX investigations involving sexual misconduct between students, as well as incidents between school employees (i.e. teachers and other school officials) and students. Not only do students and even school employees use social media to voice their opinions on Title IX allegations or attempt to confront either the alleged victim or offender, but colleges and universities also have a social media presence and receive complaints from alleged victims and even members of the community and media.
Common Ways Social Media is Used in a Title IX Hearing
The following are several ways social media activity can be used as evidence in a Title IX hearing include:
- The accused harasses or threatens the accuser or shares explicit images of the accuser
- The accuser or the accused shares private text messages and other forms of electronic communication between one another on social media
- Students and faculty comment on a post about the accused’s sexual misconduct
- Students and faculty post an image, message, or status update in support of the accused or accuser
Although school-conducted Title IX investigations in recent years have included a review of both private and public social media communications and posts, whether or not social media activity can be used as evidence in a hearing depends on the school’s sexual harassment and student conduct policy or its jurisdiction to discipline students and faculty members for their off-campus behavior.
Many college and university policies only address social media postings made on campus or a school-sponsored event, which means such postings made off-campus may not be grounds for punishment by the school. On the other hand, the policies of some schools may be broad enough to cover social media posting and online behavior made off-campus—even if the allegations involve a student from another school.
How to Protect Yourself in a Title IX Hearing
If you are being accused of campus-related sexual misconduct, here are some steps you must take to protect yourself:
- Become inactive on social media – While it may be tempting to address your allegations online, avoiding using any of your social media accounts until your case is closed. Anything you post on social media could be used against you in a Title IX, even if you have activated your privacy settings.
- Do not confront your accuser on social media – Trying to address your allegations head-on by contacting your accuser can also lead to serious legal ramifications, especially if there is a no-contact order against you. Violating a no-contact order could even result in criminal penalties such as jail time.
- Do not delete your social media account – Although deleting your accounts may seem like a good idea, you could be accused of destroying evidence, especially if you are being investigated by law enforcement officials.
At Parisi, Coan & Saccocio, PLLC, our national Title IX lawyers are here to help accused individuals understand their school’s student conduct policies and processes. We can determine whether your social media activity can be used against you in a Title IX hearing and build an effective and personalized defense strategy to protect your rights and future.