I’m writing this post on Facebook, and you’re reading it there, so it’s safe to say that the social media service Facebook is a big part of American life. Facebook, and other social media services such as Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn and many, many others have become a part of everyday life for approximately 7 out of 10 Americans.
With such a high level of social media engagement, it’s important for users of these services to clearly understand the potential legal impacts of this sort of socialization. I’ve written about related topics on my blog before. But the subject bears repeating, because I am personally witnessing the collision of social media and Southwest Michigan family courts on a daily basis. Let’s focus on three important points that I wished everyone who came into my office understood:
1) Marking your account(s) as private does not impede the opposing party from accessing your social media content (e.g. posts, comments, likes, photos, or videos). This content, even when not generally accessible to other users is 100% discoverable with only modest effort from an opposing attorney. Some services, such as Facebook, are accustomed to such legal discovery requests, and have procedures in place to service them. You are not protecting yourself legally by marking your accounts as private!
2) The content you put on the internet can be used against you in family court, even if you are not breaking the law. Our country has, throughout much its history, been a place where those with controversial views are permitted to share without fear of harm from the state. But in 2017, as in decades and centuries past, what you say publicly can still hurt you. Family courts often make decisions based on the written and spoken statements of the parties. Be careful what you put out there, it can come back to ‘bite.’
3) Once it is on the internet, you rarely can remove it permanently. There are multiple websites and organizations dedicated to preserving as much of the content posted on the internet as possible. Lacking control over the servers of social media companies, it is nearly impossible for litigants to remove damaging or harmful content from social media. This is not only an issue for adults faced with legal matters. This is a fact that every parent should be hammering home with their children and family members.
 Pew Research Center – Internet & Technology Social Media Fact Sheet, accessed June 6, 2017. Web URL: http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/social-media/