Be Careful About Who Your “Friends” Are; Facebook as a Source of Evidence in Family Law: Part 4
In recent months I have written on a few occasions about the use of Facebook in family law matters, for example situations where one ex-spouse was using it to gather unflattering information about the other, usually as a tool in a custody dispute. Reference:
The primarily lesson to be learned from those scenarios is that the social media-based access to our private lives that we give others can be used and misused in unanticipated ways.
Yet another illustration of this concept occurs came to my attention recently, in a situation involving a fellow lawyer whose imprudent choice of whom to “befriend” on Facebook led to the misappropriation and unauthorized use of pictures of himself.
The scenario was described by legal marketer Susan Van Dyke, whose client was a partner in a law firm. As a means of promoting himself and the firm, the lawyer created a Facebook profile and added many Friends to his list. Amongst them was a reporter.
This reporter happened to be doing some writing for the law firm’s media relations campaign, which included mention of this lawyer. However, the reporter was unsatisfied with the photograph provided by the lawyer’s publicist. The reporter then took it upon herself to “hunt for more interesting photos” on the lawyer’s Facebook profile. Fortunately, the photo that was eventually published to accompany the reporter’s written article was not an embarrassing one (it showed the lawyer standing next to a high-profile public person), but it was certainly not the one that had been approved and endorsed by the lawyer himself.
This incident shows the importance of taking care to ensure that the photos and other information we make available on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn has been carefully vetted to ensure that it cannot embarrass us or harm our reputation. (And this includes not only those images that we upload ourselves, but also images posted by others in which we have been “tagged.”)
Migrating this to the realm of family law disputes, it easy to imagine an ex-spouse (or soon-to-be-ex) sifting through photos of the other spouse on Facebook, looking for images that are damaging to his or her reputation or legal position. Especially for an ex-spouse who is intent on painting the other spouse in an unflattering light in court (for example to gain leverage in a custody or access dispute, or to disprove the other spouse’s claims of physical inability to work so as to preclude an increased need for spousal support) Facebook and other social media sites are a free and fertile source of potential ammunition.
But whatever the unanticipated use might be, the bottom line is this: if an image or information has been posted, it available for public consumption and can be used against you, even by a friend, but especially by an ex-spouse or ex-partner.
Susan Van Dyke offers several “essential Facebook tips” to help avoid having information or photos misused in this way. These include:
1) knowing who your “Friends” are;
2) avoiding posting anything that can come back to haunt you;
3) checking your Facebook security settings;
4) scanning all social media sites for photos in which you are tagged (and requesting that they be removed if they are not flattering);
5) creating a separate Facebook page just for family and personal photos.
Facebook is here to stay — and with all of its unforeseen dangers. Those who are embroiled in family law disputes should be particularly vigilant about what information they are making available, and how it is being used.