It’s becoming a familiar tale: young worker gets mad at boss, puts a rant on Facebook, forgets the boss is his Facebook friend, gets fired when the boss sees it.
Now, sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter are being used to mine for information in divorce cases. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says 81% of its members have used evidence pulled from posts on social media sites. And Facebook, by far, is the leading source of online evidence, say the lawyers. Oversharing on these websites has led to an overabundance of evidence in divorce cases.
The respected Pew Internet and American Life Project says about one in five adults uses Facebook for flirting, which is probably not the smartest idea if you’re in a divorce suit, about to be in one, or are seeking custody of children in a divorce action. Lawyers are now advising their clients that other attorneys and judges can read the stuff you put on Facebook, so don’t put anything there you wouldn’t want a judge to read.
Although divorce is an extremely emotional time, the Matrimonial Lawyers Academy says you should stifle your desire to talk trash about your soon-to-be-ex, and that it’s the worst possible time to share your feelings online, even though you may think you need to share your information online with friends to “help get you through it.”
And it’s not just divorce actions that can lead to a gold-mine of information on your Facebook page or MySpace page or your Twitter account. One lawyer, dealing with a client who was ordered to undergo anger management counseling, says he had to argue with his client to get him to remove his self-description on his Facebook page that said “If you have the balls to get in my face, I’ll kick your ass into submission.”
Anger issues? What anger issues?
Lawyers can tell true stories about clients who said they were too busy to attend their children’s school events, while at the same time the lawyer can track her presence with her new boyfriend on the World of Warcraft gaming site, or playing Farmville on Facebook while saying she was too busy to go to a piano recital.
One lawyer found evidence to support his client’s claim that his estranged wife was having men in the house all the time, and discovered the pictures to prove it on his children’s Facebook pages.
It’s a brave new online world. The key advice from the big-time lawyers: privacy settings are there for a reason. Find them. Get to know them. Use them. And keep up when Facebook decides it’s going to change things.