Social Media Smarts

Social media can be a great way to stay connected with people, but when you’re in a court battle, things you’ve posted can be used against you. Here are some strategies to stay on top of your social media usage so you don’t end up in a bind.

Often, our participation in social media can be positive, but when involved in a family law case– or any legal proceeding, for that matter– it can be detrimental. When speaking with my clients, I have a number of recommendations that I make about their social media usage and how they should screen the types of things they share.

Be careful who you allow to tag you at various locations or activities— especially with photographs. Being tagged at a wedding  could be fine, depending upon the photo. Being tagged at a bachelor party carries a higher risk.

When you’re in a legal dispute, especially involving children, you have to do better than most people. Some things everyone is allowed to do without being considered a “bad parent” or “irresponsible adult” are not things you can do when you’re under a microscope. It’s not “fair”, sure, but you aren’t operating under a typical parenting situation.

Here are some examples of how innocent social media posts can be used against you:

  • You’re seeking a reduction in the child support payments you make, yet there are photos of you out at concerts or bars, on vacation, or doing other things that cost money and are not necessities of daily living.
  • There are photos of you having a drink, even just one, even if you are 21 or over.  Those photos could be shown as evidence of excessive alcohol use, even if you didn’t drink to excess. It may surprise you, but in contentious matters photos like these could be taken out of context and used as evidence against you, even though you may be well within your legal rights to drink responsibly.
  • There is content in your social media profile that is clearly meant as a joke or with sarcasm, but could be misinterpreted to appear as if you are endorsing or participating in illicit or illegal activity.
  • The timing of posts can tie you to locations at specific times, as can backdrops of photos. Imagine you are in a dispute with an ex over the amount of visitation they have with your children. Right now it’s your weekend to have the kids and you have a date, so you ask your mom to babysit and then check in on a social media platform that you’re out somewhere (or you are tagged in a photo that shows you with a restaurant in the background). If you’re embroiled in a custody or visitation battle with an ex, that could be used as evidence to show that you are not maximizing your time with the children– even if they children were already in bed by the time you left. Again, custody disputes can be volatile, and people may knowingly misrepresent your behavior, even if there’s nothing wrong with going out on an occasional date.
  • You post anything at all, even if it’s legal, that could display poor judgment or immaturity. This includes driving and videotaping something (which is not legal in all jurisdictions), acting rowdy at a party,  or any other behavior that may be fun and legal but reflects poorly on your presentation of yourself as a reliable, capable, and responsible adult in court. You’ll want the judge to see you as being the person you are in court all of the time.

Remember that once you share something through an online medium, it’s not just “your” content anymore. When you share content on social media, the social media platform often gives itself access to the use or license of your content (see the Terms of Service for that social media platform for more information on what that might mean, as they all vary). Sometimes the other users of the platform are given use of your content as well. This doesn’t mean everything you post might go viral or end up in a commercial, but it’s worth noting that there can be a gray area surrounding your content when you’re using a service to share it with others, and you should think carefully before sharing.

So, what can you do?

Really think before you post. Don’t be impulsive, and don’t share things if you think there’s a chance they could be misrepresented in court, even if you aren’t doing or saying anything wrong.

Make sure your privacy settings are in place. Posts and photos that aren’t public are more protected, but also be aware of who can see them. Don’t assume that posting privately or friends-only is safe enough– it’s not. If you’re like most people, you probably share a number of mutual friends with the opposing party, and you may want to consider that some of the things you share may find their way into other hands.

It can be difficult to know how individual judges will respond to evidence gleaned from social media, so it’s really important to have an experienced attorney who is familiar with the judge involved in your case. (You can follow this link to contact me for more information on the services I provide in Eastern Massachusetts.)

When in doubt, just don’t post it. If you don’t want it truly “out there,” don’t put it out there– let every photo, text, Facebook post, SnapChat, or other form of social media sharing be something you’d be comfortable making its way to the judge’s hands. Remember that when you are fighting your case, ordinary things that you do will be weighted differently. It may not feel fair to be held to such close scrutiny, but the short-term task of being careful can pay off with the long-term benefit of helping your case.


To speak further with Attorney Mark Cotton on this issue or another that you are facing, click here for more information.

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