Dec 22, 2023

Responsible use of social media

The Supreme Court... recently passed the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability with specific provisions on the responsible use of social media

Social media are forms of electronic communication by which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content including videos (Webster Dictionary). Various platforms exist, like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Reddit, Snapchat, and LinkedIn, among others. Since we are now in the digital age, a good number of us use social media to communicate, connect, and expand our networks.

Lawyers, though traditionally conservative in their ways and manner of communication, have learned to embrace the use of various social media platforms.

The Supreme Court, realizing the impact of social media on the practice of law, recently passed the Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability with specific provisions on the responsible use of social media.

These provisions are express reminders regarding the limitations imposed on the use of social media by legal professionals.

According to the CPRA, “[a] lawyer shall uphold the dignity of the legal profession in all social media interactions in a manner that enhances the people’s confidence in the legal system, as well as promote its responsible use.”

The lawyer is reminded “to understand the benefits, risks and ethical implications associated with the use of social media” (Section 38, Canon II).

It is important for a lawyer to be circumspect in making online posts to “ensure his or her online posts [will] uphold the dignity of the legal profession and shield it from disrepute, as well as maintain respect for the law” (Section 39).

With this directive, “[a] lawyer shall not post, share, upload or otherwise disseminate false or unverified statements, claims, or commit any other act of disinformation” (Section 40).

For example, the lawyer must verify government announcements or news passed on or posted by questionable social media accounts or websites before reposting, sharing, or uploading.

Furthermore, “[a] lawyer shall not create, maintain or operate accounts in social media for the purpose of hiding his or her identity to circumvent the law or the provisions of this Code” (Section 41).

While lawyers are not prevented from having multiple social media accounts, a lawyer can be administratively disciplined if his or her purpose in maintaining the multiple accounts is to violate or sidestep the law or the CPRA.

The lawyer must always be mindful that, being an officer of the court, he or she has the sworn duty to help protect the integrity of the legal profession.

The lawyer also has the duty “not [to] reveal, directly or indirectly, in his or her online posts confidential information obtained from a client or in the course of, or emanating from, the representation, except when allowed by law or this Code” (Section 42).

Hence, a lawyer must not post a copy of a Resolution, Decision, or Order of the courts unless officially published by the Supreme Court or any of its courts.

The practice of posting orders or decisions by some lawyers with erasures of the court branch, docket number, names of the parties, and the judge, is a very sensitive matter.

These may appear to anonymize the identities of the parties and the court but a person who closely examines the post and continues to look up pertinent details on social media and search engines would find a way to identify the parties and the nature of the case.

“A lawyer, who uses a social media account to communicate with any other person in relation to client confidences and information, shall exert efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure or use of, or unauthorized access to, such an account” (Section 43).

Therefore, caution must be taken by lawyers working in teams and communicating confidential information through chat groups like Viber or Telegram.

Group chats of lawyers may inadvertently expose the confidential information of a client if the social media account is common to the spouses or partners of lawyers.

It may also happen that a lawyer formerly working for the client was not removed from a chat group concerning the latter, thereby continuing to receive confidential information about the client.

The CPRA reminds lawyers “[to] exercise prudence in making posts or comments in social media that could violate the provisions on conflict of interest….” (Section 46).

They may unknowingly and publicly comment on a client’s interest, that of a colleague’s client (member of the same law office), or the directors or officers of a juridical entity (corporation) which is their client.

While the 2019 Rules on Civil Procedure now allows filing and service by electronic means, “[a] lawyer shall not communicate with an officer of any court, tribunal, or other government agency through social media to influence the latter’s performance of official duties” (Section 44).

Simply put, all social media communications with the courts must only concern its official functions.

The duty of the lawyer to “safeguard human rights, and at all times advance the honor and integrity of the legal profession” extends to every aspect of his life (Section 1, Canon III).

This includes the lawyers’ engagement in various social media platforms.

(Manila Standard, Oct. 28, 2023)