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Be careful what you text!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
posted by Rita Handrich

If you have ever fired off a text message on a smart phone, you know the perils of ‘auto correct’, a feature with a name that frequently is a gross misnomer. Cell phone texts offer more to embarrass us in court than we might think possible. Texting results in–according to new research–more of the actual truth!

Researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) found that research participants answered questionnaire studies more honestly via text than they did for phone calls or in person. This held true even when the questions asked were potentially sensitive.

Among the questions that respondents answered more honestly via text than speech: In a typical week, about how often do you exercise? During the past 30 days, on how many days did you have 5 or more drinks on the same occasion?

And among the questions that respondents answered more precisely via text, providing fewer rounded numerical responses: During the last month, how many movies did you watch in any medium? How many songs do you currently have on your iPhone?

Intriguingly, it didn’t matter whether the respondent was in a crowded environment or multi-tasking (i.e., shopping or walking). Their responses via text were simply more “thoughtful and honest”.

“This is sort of surprising,” says Conrad, “since many people thought that texting would decrease the likelihood of disclosing sensitive information because it creates a persistent, visual record of questions and answers that others might see on your phone and in the cloud.”

So what does this mean for litigation advocacy? It could mean a number of things. The University of Michigan ISR group is well-known and well-regarded.

If your case involves damaging texts–this study might be used to demonstrate that we tend to tell the truth in texts more often than we do in person or over the phone.

What this doesn’t adequately erase is the ‘auto correct’ defense, which is surely heading for primetime.

It certainly means we need to be cognizant of the ability of text messages to be subpoenaed just like email and voicemail and electronic as well as traditionally written information.

And as a bonus, it may result in your kids telling you the truth without realizing it.

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