Saturday, September 15, 2012

Facebook and Family Law: The New Peril of Timeline

There are a number of factors that anyone having and using Facebook should consider when they are in or could be involved in a family law matter.  Of course the absolute best practice would be to delete the account, or not have any current use of it, that’s not always an easy thing for people to give up.  And deleting a Facebook account is not easy, but can be done by following these steps.  Even if you stop current use, without deleting the account there is still a lot of visible information about you out there. 

The first step should be to re-evaluate your Facebook friends wisely and de-friend estranged spouses, family and friends.  It’s also more important than ever to review those security and privacy settings.  Choose carefully who can see what information you post, and certainly never keep any part of your profile public.  One of the first things opposing attorneys do when taking a case is a general online search of the opposing party, including Facebook. 

Remember your Facebook page will still be viewable to a large number of comingled friends who can take screen shots or print your Facebook page, so being careful about what you post is also critical.  More and more often Facebook pages are popping up as evidence in divorce or custody and visitation trials.  Additionally, Facebook pages show a general trend in a person’s behavior, possible signs of an adulterous relationship and parenting decisions.  

Now all Facebook users have been forced to the new Timeline format.  Timeline was created to highlight the most memorable posts, life events and photos of your life.  This feature allows people with access to your Facebook page to view items and information spanning back to when you joined Facebook, and possibly before if you were tagged or have been tagged in events prior to your joining Facebook, easier and quicker than ever.

When your page switched over for you as a user, you had seven days to edit it before anyone with access to your page would view it in Timeline format.  After that point all your past that wasn’t hidden was placed on your visible Timeline profile.  If you haven’t done so already you should carefully go back through your timeline from start to finish and carefully review all posts and pictures.  You can hide, edit or remove any posts, or pictures, you don’t want visible to others on your timeline.  Also consider un-tagging yourself in any unflattering photos and/or ask the person who posted it to delete it.  Generally your profile picture and cover photo will still be publicly viewable, even if you have changed your privacy settings to be very strict, so be careful what photos you use for your profile and cover. 

It’s generally good practice to not over-share on Facebook, whether it be using Facebook check-ins, posts, status updates and pictures.  But also be cognizant of which applications you allow to automatically share information on your page such as Instagram, Living Social and Four Square. 

Lastly, remember that venting about what you are going through or things that an opposing party or potential witness did in a public format is never smart.  Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want a grumpy Judge, who doesn’t know you enough to put what you said in context and who controls your destiny, to see.