Antonella Rodriguez – Associate
Social Media Presence is Evidence
Social media is an intrinsic part of modern life and many of us love to share intimate aspects of our lives with our friends and family through these platforms – family photos, career news, thoughts, hopes, achievements and sometimes grievances.
On the internet everything is forever. Evidence obtained via social media is now a regular feature in Family Court disputes. Posts that parties once thought were private are easily captured and shared with others, including the Family Court, in the form of screenshots. It is good practice when using social media to avoid commenting about the matter, the judge, or your view of the court or family law proceedings generally. It is best to keep all comments about your matter to yourself, especially if you don’t want the judge to eventually read it!
Section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) restricts the publication of materials with respect to any part of a family law proceeding. The purpose of this section is not only to protect the parties to the litigation but primarily to protect any children who may be inadvertently involved. Publishing on social media is as much a violation of this section as publishing it in a newspaper; some people have found themselves in trouble with the court as a result of their postings on social media which were found and shared with the court.
A Quick Guide to Social Media
- You do not want to go viral! Do not post anything on the internet unless you would be comfortable with millions of people seeing it. Posts and comments are easily screenshot and shared from person to person and you will not be able to control the spread.
- Definitely do not post anything unless you would be comfortable with the judge seeing it or reading it out loud in court.
- Restrict access to your accounts. Change your passwords for personal banking, email and social media accounts in addition to your personal devices.
- Use different passwords for every service wherever possible to reduce risk.
- Enable two-factor authentication wherever possible.
- This has the added benefit that it effectively will notify you whenever someone else attempts to sign into your account.
- Turn off your location services on your personal devices and be mindful of metadata that is captured in photos.
- Consider what is revealed in a photo that may be give indicators to the other side as to your financial circumstances or regular hangouts.
- If you are at risk of family violence you should avoid posting photos online that may give any kind of clue as to your whereabouts or regularly visited locations.
- Use Timeline Review wherever possible to vet posts that you are tagged in.
- Remember that rejecting or not approving a tag does not delete the photo or the post. Reach out to that person and request that they remove the post.
- Restrict your posts to be “friends only” rather than public.
- Remember that this restriction does not stop someone from screenshotting and sharing your posts so continue to act cautiously and do not post about the matter at all.
- Spring Clean your friend lists. It is an unfortunate reality that people take sides in a separation. Even with strict privacy settings, a post may be screenshot and sent on by a mutual connection.
- Consider who can see your posts and if they really need to. Do you need to post that photo on Facebook or could you share it by MMS to your trusted relatives instead?
Lawyers will absolutely google you to see what they can discover about you and the people you surround yourself with. It can be helpful to google yourself to see whether you have public profiles and if so, what information you have available to the public. You can then set about making these profiles private and restrict access to trusted people. It is an unfortunate part of separation that some mutual friends may choose to take sides and may choose to share information from your private profile with your former spouse. Go through your friend list and consider cleaning out or restricting some of those present.
Back it up
It is good practice to regularly back up your important files, just in case something goes wrong. You can create a backup “locally” on your PC or you could consider using an external hard drive device to create a layer of physical separation. Files may be compromised or deleted in numerous ways, including as a result of a virus or other malicious program, or by way of simple mistake or computer failure. An accidental deletion of photos or important files can be devastating but with this practice you will be able to restore to the last backed up version and minimise your risk of data losses. If you can back-up the data on your personal devices such as your phone and any tablet or iPad devices this is also recommended to protect against permanent data loss.