Social Media and Family Law
We’ve all heard stories about the use of social media gone wrong – a politician tweets something inappropriate, an embarrassing photo of a celebrity goes viral, a business person gets caught in a compromising situation. Social media has changed the way we communicate; sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Concerns around privacy and retention of data are something we should all be thinking about if we engage with social media platforms.
Social media is playing an ever-increasing role in family law disputes as litigants use information obtained from social media to support their claims. For example, social media posts may be used to support a claim that someone is not a fit parent because they allow a child to partake in dangerous activities or it may be used to demonstrate that someone’s income is higher than claimed based on the lifestyle they post about. More generally, parents may disagree about what information is shared about their children on social media, which can lead to disputes. If you are involved in a family law dispute, here are some social media tips to consider:
Discuss What Content is Acceptable to be Shared
Many parents’ Instagram and Facebook feeds are full of pictures and videos of their children. Parents don’t always agree, however, about how much of their children’s lives should be shared online. Discuss with your former spouse what is acceptable and not acceptable to share as well as appropriate privacy settings for your social media accounts. If both parents are on the same page, there is less likely to be a dispute in the future.
Be Aware of Who Your Followers Are
It’s not uncommon for parents to be “friends” with their children’s friends on Facebook or for their children’s friends to follow their Instagram or Twitter accounts. Be mindful of who is following you and what information you are putting out there. While you might be cautious about not sharing information about your separation directly with your children, if you are posting about it on social media and you have friends and family members following you, there’s a good chance it will get back to your children. Subtle comments and digs without naming names are off limits too – kids can read between the lines.
Remember that Social Media Posts Can Be Used As Evidence
Requests to obtain documentation regarding an individual’s social media posts are becoming more common as our use of social media permeates our day-to-day life. While a person’s social media profile may be set to private, that doesn’t mean that they won’t be ordered to provide that information in the course of litigation. Furthermore, posts cannot simply be deleted if there is a concern about the content – that may be considered spoiling evidence. Ultimately, if you wouldn’t want a judge or the other parent to see it, it shouldn’t be on social media.
Think Twice Before Posting
I always advise my clients to think twice about hitting send on that email that they’ve written to their spouse in a moment of anger and frustration. If you need to vent, write your feelings down and then take a break. Usually, when you come back with a clear head, you can express your feelings a manner that is more respectful and productive. The same rules apply to social media. Take a moment to think about what you are posting and what the ramifications might be. Never post out of anger. If you have doubts about whether the post is appropriate, it’s probably not. If you need to air out your feelings of frustration, find a trusted friend and discuss the issue in private. There’s nothing to be gained by putting the information out there for the world (or your 500 “friends”) to see but there may be a whole lot to lose.