Clues from the digital world: A survey of clinicians' reliance on social media as collateral data in forensic evaluations

C. Adam Coffey, Ashley B. Batastini, Michael J. Vitacco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Access to and use of social media has increased throughout the United States. In parallel, information gleaned from social media is often available as part of discovery packets provided to clinicians conducting forensic evaluations. As social media continues to be a primary mode of communication, forensic evaluators are likely to grapple with decisions to use information from these sites to inform psycholegal opinions. However, professional commentary on obtaining, interpreting, and integrating data from social networking sites (SNSs) in forensic practice began only recently. There have been few empirical efforts thus far to better understand whether and how forensic mental health evaluators use SNSs to inform their opinions about various psycholegal issues. Thus, the current study sought to address this gap in the professional literature by surveying practicing forensic evaluators (N = 102) regarding their use of SNS data in civil and criminal legal contexts. Quantitative and qualitative findings from our survey are presented and discussed to provide an overview of current practices and concerns among forensic clinicians. Overall, SNSs are used with some frequency in forensic mental health assessments and are generally perceived as a useful source. Findings are integrated with previous professional commentary about Internet-based data to facilitate greater understanding of how SNS data may be best incorporated into assessments and to identify emergent legal and ethical issues when such data are included.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-354
Number of pages10
JournalProfessional Psychology: Research and Practice
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • Collateral data
  • Expert testimony
  • Forensic mental health assessment
  • Social networking sites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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