WE'RE GENERATING QUITE THE BUZZ
The Palisadian Post, a well established Los Angeles newspaper that serves the Pacific Palisades and its surrounding communities, wrote a full page article about The Social Media Justice League. See below to read the full story.
When someone is motivated to make a change, there is no telling what can be accomplished. That is especially true whenever people with shared ideas work together. One vivid illustration is the several Palisades Charter High School students who have brought together teens from multiple schools to create a Gen-Z research group.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, 14 teens from across the country have joined forces to pursue their love for the law. Forming what they call The Social Media Justice League, these future lawyers and change makers are using social media to help law firms win and negotiate their cases.
What began as a small group of Pali High students bound by their collective passion for law has grown into a band of like-minded teens from eight different schools, looking to completely disrupt the investigative process in civil and criminal cases. These teens want to expose others to the powers of social media and help older generations recognize how important an individual’s online activity can be to the outcome of a case.
“More often than not, people leave large digital footprints that highlight important details about their day-to-day lives,” Arielle Hatton, a junior at Pali High and president/founder of The SMJL, explained. “It’s these details that help to reveal missing information and fill in the blanks for cases that are difficult to win or settle.”
While some might view the team’s age as a hindrance, Hatton shared she sees it as a secret weapon, believing that their distinctive and fresh Gen-Z perspective offers them an edge.
“As members of a generation born into technology, we know the ins and outs of social media like the back of our hand,” she said. “Social media is native to us. It only makes sense that we be the ones navigating it. Another plus: We don’t cost as much as expensive private investigative firms. We just do it because we are passionate and want to prove that we can use our skills to make a difference.”
The seed for The SMJL was planted when a family member of Hatton was sued in what she thought was a bogus case. With her interest piqued, Hatton took to social media, and after diligently sifting through the plaintiff’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts, she was able to find posts that poked major holes in the other side’s case.
Hatton immediately presented her findings to her family member’s lawyer, who used her work to bring the plaintiff to the negotiating table.
“I was surprised to find that the attorney hadn’t done this research himself,” Hatton said. “After digging deep on multiple social platforms, I was able to completely change the outcome of the negotiations.”
It was then that Hatton realized the need for such a service in the legal field. She immediately enlisted the help of 13 of her peers, and The SMJL was born.
Her team includes fellow Palisades students Anirudh Chatterjee, Ethan Kim and Hemosoo Woo; Vice President Shani Shaham from Shalhevet High in Los Angeles; and students from Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach, Milken Community School in Bel-Air, La Jolla High in San Diego and Northwest Yeshiva High in Washington.
“A family member of mine was sued for millions of dollars, and I was so surprised that no one on their legal team had even thought to look online,” Hatton recalled of the case. “I presented what I found out to the lawyer and ultimately it went from being a multi-million-dollar lawsuit to being settled for a mere $35,000. It was then I saw the great need for such a service in the legal industry and the role we Gen-Zers play in that.”
Hatton touched on the fact that some attorneys are part of an older generation who may not have the inherent technological skills of her and her peers.
“We were essentially born with smartphones in our hands, and looking through social media is like second nature to us,” she added. “It only makes sense that we be the ones navigating it.”
Hatton was recently named co-editor-in-chief of Pali High’s online student newspaper, Tideline.
“To be honest, I was a little surprised,” she admitted of the accomplishment. “I’d only been in the class for two years and was competing for the spot with people who had been there since the start of their freshman year. I’m happy that my passion for journalism shined through in my interview, and that they saw value in my writing and leadership skills. It just goes to show that with hard work and effort, even things that seem impossible are within reach.”
Hatton takes her new position—and the responsibility that goes along with it—seriously.
“Being named editor-in-chief has been a dream since I joined the journalism class as a sophomore,” she said. “As a prospective lawyer, I find writing and researching to be incredibly valuable skills that I know will help get me farther in my legal career.”
Hatton was a staff writer as a sophomore and co-section editor her junior year, which she said allowed her to learn so much about the fundamentals of journalism, allowing her to “truly perfect” her writing and researching skills.
“Tideline has become a huge part of my life and I’m beyond excited to share its benefits with the rest of the class,” Hatton added. “Moving forward, I want to give the writers more freedom to cover topics that interest them and encourage them to test out a new section that pushes them out of their comfort zone. By trying new things, they’ll be able to grow as writers, just as I did.”
Hatton, who went to Paul Revere Charter Middle School before Pali High, said she dreams of being a criminal defense lawyer. She plans to take the pre-law path and major in either political science, English or psychology in college.
“In some cases, people’s social media accounts are private, which does make the kind of work we do a little more difficult,” Hatton explained. “However, our team has found ways to work around that by using our vast network of friends and family to find connections that help get us into these censored accounts.”
She said that in one instance, The SMJL team was able to find the most compelling online evidence via Yelp.
“Through our searches we identified a new witness who, with our help, was contacted and asked to testify,” she shared. “A majority of the time, we found that, more often than not, people keep their accounts public, which highlight important details about their day-to-day lives. It’s these details that we use to reveal missing information and fill in the blanks for cases that are difficult to win or settle.”
The SMJL has already worked with four esteemed LA law firms since its formation. Through meticulous social media deep dives, the team has been able to establish important timelines, identify new witnesses, track down people and disprove legal claims made in depositions. The teens hope to grow their group and extend their reach to provide assistance to more attorneys across the city and eventually the country.
“We want to create a movement,” Hatton expressed. “By bringing together people with a common love of the law, we want to foster our passion while simultaneously honing in our skills to help older generations succeed. As we continue to grow, we aim to have SMJL-like resources in multiple states across the country to help teach older generations of lawyers, defendants and plaintiffs all about the power of social media and the immense value someone’s digital footprint could add to their cases. We believe these older generations can learn just as much from us as we can learn from them.”
The SMJL appears to have a bright future and is ever expanding.
“We have two incoming cases from new attorneys and are excited to see what we can find,” Hatton shared. “The future lies in growing our team and expanding our client base. New people are joining every week. We have a goal of reaching at least 100 members and while it’s ambitious, we definitely think it’s achievable.”
Hatton shared that for the past year, she has been interning with a law firm where she writes legal-related articles and learns the intricacies of the criminal justice system.
“Without a doubt, my time there has played a huge role in inspiring me to start SMJL,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without Vice President Shani Shaham and the rest of the founding members: Henry Fried, Anirudh Chatterjee, Siena Capeloto and Maddie Feng, who are helping us reach our full potential.”
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.
After discovering a knack for online research while helping her grandfather in a legal case, a Beverly Hills teenager created an organization to help legal teams discover relevant information using virtual resources.
Social Media Justice League founder Arielle Hatton, 18, has enlisted the help of more than 26 other students from 14 schools to fill what they see as a gap in legal research – the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
“I think one of the main things that the Social Media Justice League brings to the table is that we really know social media like the back of our hands and can easily navigate [platforms],” she said. “You can go online and learn somebody’s whole life story in a couple of clicks. It’s really cool what we’ve been able to do, and it’s something a lot of teens are doing on a regular basis.”
Hatton, a Palisades Charter High School senior, started the nonprofit organization in December 2020 with friends from school after helping her grandfather’s legal case. She couldn’t provide many specifics, but said he was being sued and she obtained the case documents. Curiosity took over, and Hatton began looking for the plaintiff on social media.
“I found some posts on her Instagram and a lot of tweets that conflicted with what she was saying in her deposition,” she said. “We used a lot of that information, put it into a presentation and gave it to the attorney that was working on my grandpa’s case. He actually used it to bring her to the negotiating table.”
Hatton said she found that many law firms were also experiencing gaps in their research. Oftentimes, firms use private investigators for that research, but it can be expensive, she said.
“Aside from that, the people that are conducting these searches are from an older generation,” Hatton added.
She said the Social Media Justice League wanted to branch out and reach students outside of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. Most of the marketing is through word of mouth, but it’s been successful, Hatton said. Seven U.S. states and Canada are now represented, and most of the participating students are aspiring attorneys or interested in law.
“It’s kind of cool just to cross borders,” Hatton said. “We all helped recruit. … We understood that the more people we had, the more powerful this idea would be and the more opportunities we would have.”
The students meet once a week on Zoom and assign tasks accordingly.
“I don’t want to make it sound like it’s easy,” Hatton said. “It’s definitely not easy. A lot of the stuff that we are looking for takes hours to find – it’s not surface-level stuff. You have to do one preliminary search and then really go deeper to find stuff, across multiple platforms. It takes a couple hours, so there’s definitely a time commitment.”
She finds the time, however. In addition to her schooling, Hatton is on the school’s mock trial team and is the editor of the school newspaper, “Tideline.”
“I think that’s something we’ve done really well – splitting up the work so that nobody has too much on their plate,” she added.
Hatton said the Social Media Justice League has worked on eight or nine cases, with two more upcoming. She said the league has done the majority of its work with Los Angeles law firms.
“We used Yelp one time, which was kind of a niche place that we thought we wouldn’t find a lot of information,” Hatton added. “But we actually used Yelp to find a new witness in a malpractice case. It was cool to see our work come to fruition in that kind of way.”
She is excited at the progress the league has made and looks forward to continuing to find “digital breadcrumbs” for law firms.
The Social Media Justice League specializes in case research, jury candidate research and social media strategy and content. For information, visit thesmjl.com.