by Attorney Amy Saunders
If you are about to head into a any legal issues (especially divorce, child custody or other family issues) — you need to consider the potential ramifications that may result. The biggest hurdle, for most, is that Facebook is like owning a cell phone; we all have to be on Facebook these days – but you also have to be smart and protect your interests.
Most of us are aware that Facebook is successfully mined by employers, insurers, the IRS, divorce lawyers, as well as identity thieves and criminals. Even so, almost 13 million users have yet to set, or didn’t know about, Facebook’s privacy tools. And 28% shared all, or almost all, of their wall posts with an audience wider than their friends. (1) Even worse, 7 million households experienced troubles due to Facebook, ranging from someone using their log-in without permission to being harassed or threatened. (1)
All social media has privacy loopholes, and given that, it has become common “evidence” in legal proceedings for snooping exes, especially during divorce and child custody disputes. For example, in Connecticut, a judge ordered a divorcing couple to swap Facebook and dating website passwords. (3) According to the Wall Street Journal, “more than a third of divorce filings last year contained the word Facebook.” (2) There are too many examples to mention, but the take home message is that Social Media content is now legal game, and admissible as evidence.
So how does all of this play into divorce and legal proceedings? First and foremost, on your trial day – you need to consider the weight of the evidence obtained from social media. The court systems are overwhelmed, and your case is in a long line. On the day of your trial, there is no time for redemption when photos and posts displaying lude behavior, adultery, or unfavorable parent traits will come back to haunt you. You have one chance — think about it. If you do not have the time or technical savvy to be 100% sure that your privacy settings are secure AND your friends and family will respect your privacy — then we suggest deactivating all social media accounts until you can rightfully protect your privacy interests during legal proceedings.
It is far too often, that my clients’ spouses post negative comments pertaining to the soon-to-be ex,or post pictures of their new boyfriend/girlfriend. This is no surprise given the fact that 4.6 million wall posts on Facebook last year were about relationships. (1) Even with rock solid privacy settings,some of my clients experienced the dreaded Friend of a Friends loophole that pushes your “private” content out much further than you realize. If a friend “likes” or shares your post or picture, your initial intents for privacy are long gone. Your photo and content will appear in streams and pages throughout Facebook, Twitter, and so forth. Even Mark Zuckerberg’s sister complained about this fact when her “private” Facebook photo (restricted to friends only) was shared by a friend and ended up going public on Twitter. (4) If Mark’s sister can’t achieve privacy, who can?
Another disturbing loophole was explained by one of the clients. Just prior to telling her husband about divorce, she deactivated her Facebook account rather than unfriending her ex-husband. What does that do? Well, she can reactivate her account at any time and have full access to her ex-husbands profile without him ever knowing. He thinks she is no longer a friend since she fell off his list on deactivation. So she can pop in anytime she wants to snoop. It was hard to believe, until my client showed me in person. Once I saw this, I was convinced that the privacy issues are bigger than I imagined.
There is a labyrinth of privacy policies, pages and links to navigate — and sometimes it is just better to put things on hold — but if you cannot … here are some tips to minimize damage during legal proceedings;
- Change your password, secondary email, AND security questions immediately. Ex-spouses often know all of the security questions and can reset the password on their own (i.e., City of birth, Date of Birth, First car)
- Change your profile to NOT show up in public search results
- Delete all posts, photos and content that may be perceived as questionable for child custody, divorce, and/or legal issues
- Clean up your Friends list to those you can trust. It may be hard to believe now, but there is always a snitch that will catch you off-guard – someone will be “picking up the phone” to keep your ex up to date on your Facebook life.
- Set your wall posts to Close Friends/Family
- Review all photo albums and reset privacy settings
- Do not check-in to expensive restaurants or vacation destinations. As a matter of fact, don’t check in anywhere. This just lets potential criminals know you are not home – and a financial dispute in divorce .
- If you move on and start dating, do not post anything. No pictures, no discussion. No nothing.
Bottom line, when going through a divorce, social media is not your friend—it’s your foe.