Social Media & Family Law in Michigan: Sharing Can Be Trouble
Facebook has 1.71 billion active accounts. 310 million people use Twitter on a daily basis. 450 million people have tried LinkedIn. These services are not the sole purview of technologically-savvy youth. Every day, millions of Michigan residents are interacting with these services in a manner that, while engaging, is also potentially damaging to them should they be later involved in a family law case.
Many users of social media wrongly believe that their communication within these services are private, and therefore no one else may have access to them. This is factually incorrect. Social media activity, including that done in 'private' is accessible to adverse parties, after obtaining the approval of the Court.
In Michigan, discovery of information relevant to a lawsuit is done either informally and by agreement of the parties, or by leave (permission) of the Court. If the Court decides that an opposing party conducting discovery in your password-protected social media accounts will lead to information that is relevant to a case... guess what? You will have to provide that account information. It doesn't matter that it is your private space. It doesn't matter that you may have within that account damaging information, such as negative or embarrassing conversations, photos, videos or audio recordings.
Some parties attempt to correct this problem after it is too late. They change their status to 'private' or even attempt to delete the accounts. Sadly for them, nothing is ever really deleted on the Internet. Facebook can restore virtually anything that has ever entered its servers, and will do so to comply with a Court order. Facebook does it every day, and would do it for your case too.
So what to do if you are a social media user and are concerned about some of the data associated with your account? First, stop posting embarrassing material. Second, if you are not already a party to a family law case, you should remove the offensive or embarrassing material before it become subject to discovery. Third, you should ensure that your name and face are not associated or 'tagged' in other people's profiles, if those associations would harm your credibility. Lastly, strongly consider the relative value of future use of such systems. If you believe you're destined for a family law case in the near future, maybe it is time to put social media on pause.