The Pennsylvania Superior Court decided an issue of first impression in Pennsylvania—what is the standard for the authentication of social media postings at trial. In Commonwealth v. Mangel, 2018 PA Super 57 (Pa. Super. March 15, 2018), the Superior Court analyzed the legal standard for the admission of social media posts and relied upon its prior analogous holdings addressing the admission of text messages and instant messages. Despite strong evidence suggesting that the Facebook account at issue was created by or associated with the criminal defendant, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the prosecution had not met its burden of authenticating that the social media postings were made by the defendant, as opposed to someone else using his account. Lessons to learn from the case are that some of the methods that should have been used to also corroborate who wrote the social media post include: verifying the IP address of who made the post, verifying who created and had access to the email account associated with the account, verifying who owned any cellphone number associated with the account, and using any other circumstantial evidence available that suggests the identity of the author of the post.

In connection with a criminal trial, the prosecution attempted to admit Facebook online chat transcripts and a photograph of bloody hands into evidence. In order to authenticate the Facebook postings for admission into evidence, the commonwealth had one of its detectives qualified as an expert in computer forensics. The expert was retained to determine who owned a Facebook account bearing the name of the criminal defendant, Tyler Mangel, and was provided with screen shots and chat logs from the Facebook account. The expert determined that the Facebook account had the same name as the defendant, and that the account stated that the account holder lived in the same town and attended the same high school as the defendant. The prosecution presented evidence that the Facebook account was verified with a cellphone number that belonged to the Stacy Mangel, who has the same last name and lived at the same address as the defendant. The prosecution also presented evidence that the Facebook account included photographs of the defendant.

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