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Social Media Justice League brings Gen Z sleuths to legal field

La Jolla High students Priscilla Rayon and Crescent Norman do online research as part of the Social Media Justice League.
La Jolla High School students Priscilla Rayon and Crescent Norman do online research as part of the Social Media Justice League.
(Courtesy of Crescent Norman)

Think that comment you posted on Facebook will never be seen by anyone other than your friends? Or what about that time you were “tagged” somewhere on Instagram? Or that Yelp review you posted?

Using social media sleuthing, the newly formed Social Media Justice League conducts case research for lawyers or others involved with lawsuits to find witnesses, create timelines and collect data on the parties involved. The organization, including three La Jolla High School students, has representation in 12 schools across five states and in Canada.

“I have always had an interest in law,” said founder Arielle Hatton, 17, a student at Los Angeles-based Palisades Charter High School.

In December, “a family member of mine was being sued in what I thought was a bogus case. So he wanted me to get a look at it, so I got hold of the case files and poked around,” she said. “Out of curiosity, I went on Instagram and Facebook to get a sense of who this person was that was suing my family member. Within seconds, I found pictures and posts that contradicted what the person was saying in court. I was able to put it into a presentation and give it to the lawyer. It brought the case down from a multimillion-dollar settlement to a couple of thousand dollars.”

Arielle saw the need for such a service in the industry and formed the Social Media Justice League soon after. She reached out to friends in a mock trial team and challenged each of them to recruit a friend. One of them was La Jolla High student Priscilla Rayon, 16, who had a mutual friend with Arielle.

The two worked together on cases and used social media and sites like Yelp to create a timeline of events related to the cases.

“In one case, we started with a woman’s name, but we didn’t have an age or location, so we started with Google searches, expanded to Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and went a little deeper,” including comments the woman had posted and where she had been tagged (mentioned) by others, Priscilla said. “We divided and conquered to find what she posted and how it lined up with the timeline of the case.”

“I really love everything the club encompasses,” Priscilla said. “We, as members of Gen Z, have inherent knowledge of technology and social media, but those in the legal system that are older don’t have that. I think we could learn from them as much as they learn from us. Lawyers and plaintiffs don’t always think to look at social media, even though there are multiple reasons to. We have these skills and catch a lot of details. We bring a new perspective to the table.”

La Jolla High students Crescent Norman and Allison Foerster also joined the organization.

“I’m one of those people that when I meet someone new, the first thing I do is look them up on social media so I know what I’m getting into,” said Crescent, 17. “I thought this group was extra special and a creative idea. We could turn our interest in social media into something bigger with real cases.”

While Crescent doesn’t know yet what she wants to do professionally, she said participation in the Social Media Justice League has “given me a first look into what it would be like to have a career in the legal field. It’s sparked my ideas into what I could do in the future.”

The organization’s services are available for free to any participant in a suit — attorney, client, plaintiff, defendant.

Going forward, the group will expand into jury selection research. “Activism has become really big on social media, and we can gather a lot more information from their digital footprint than lawyers could in court,” Priscilla said.

“You are going to see a reflection of a person’s biases on social media, something they might not know they are doing,” Arielle added. “A post can be laced with bias and personal opinion. As a lawyer, you get to choose [members of the] jury. So we have been talking about looking them up for party affiliation or anything they might have posted that might jeopardize the integrity of the case.”

Another goal is to increase the group’s membership from 22 currently to 100. The Social Media Justice League is open to any high school student with an interest in law and/or social media. Learn more at thesmjl.com. ◆