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The Gift & Curse Of Social Media

“I need to see all of your social media accounts.”

I make this statement to every client I meet with. And every time, the client is taken aback at my request.

But it should come as no surprise.

Almost all of my clients come to our first meeting armed with example after example as to why the opposing party is the scum of the earth. Yet many never give any insight into their role in the situation. A great way for me — and opposing counsel– to discern that information is by looking at their social media activity.

I believe that social media is both a gift and a curse. Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and the like, we all have the ability to document every aspect of our lives and publish it for the world to see. But on the flipside, this technology is dangerous because it gives us the ability to document every aspect of our lives and publish it for the world to see. As your attorney, it is my responsibility to make sure that what you post isn’t damaging to your case. Social media scares me because I have seen spontaneous, unfiltered, irresponsible posts turn cases in unexpected ways.

Many clients believe that simply changing their social media privacy settings and restricting who has access to their pages is all that needs to be done. While these are good first steps, they do nothing more than providing a false sense of privacy.

To be really secure in your social media activities, take these additional precautions:

-Change all passwords. When entering into a legal case against a partner or family member, it’s important to change all passwords for all of your technology-enabled accounts: email, phone, file sharing, and social media. If there was a significant relationship with the other party, you may have shared your passwords with him/her or the other party may be able to guess them. Changing your passwords safeguards your accounts and minimizes the chance of unauthorized access to them.

-Don’t be deceived by online “friends.” When in the thick of family court proceedings, it’s important to understand that not all online “friends” (or offline friends, for that matter) are real friends. It’s never a good idea to accept a new friend or follow request from someone whom you don’t know, but it’s an especially bad idea when involved in a legal issue. Since the opposing party does not have access to what you post, they often ask a friend or family member to look at your page and share your information. A current trend on social media involves users taking screenshots of posted information, which could then be used against you in court. Even a deleted post could come back to hurt you if a “friend” captured and shared it with someone else.

-Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want to be admitted into evidence.Be mindful of the things that you say, the pictures you take and the places you go and how it reflects on your character. Never post anything negative about the other people involved in the case or the presiding judge. Never post anything that could be considered violent or threatening. Never post a picture of anything illegal. Don’t pose for pictures in places you shouldn’t be. Ask friends and family to be mindful of the things they post and tag you in.

-Don’t post anything that is inconsistent with your testimony. This goes back to being mindful of what you are posting. It’s best not to refer to anything on social media about your legal situation or court case. With that being said, if you haven’t made the best decisions online in the past, be completely honest. Don’t try to “clean up” your social media pages before sharing your information with your attorney. The more I know about what’s out there, the better equipped I am to help you.

Using social media isn’t a big deal. But what is a big deal is the way it can negatively affect your proceedings. If you can’t stop and think before you post, I recommend temporarily signing off so that irresponsible use doesn’t ruin your case.