Some of the most popular places on the Internet are social media sites. It is easy for people to create their own pages and add personal information. It can also become a serious problem if your stories, comments or photos unexpectedly end up in the hands of someone who wants to use them against you. Many Iowans are not aware of some facts about content they put on a social media site:
- It is NOT private;
- Posted information is often still available for someone who knows where to look, even after you delete something and think it is gone;
- Information from these sites is increasingly being used against people in legal matters, particularly family law cases.
In a family law case, an attorney will be able to require you to turn over all your social media history, including your postings. Your opposing party can use pictures and comments to show that you are practicing bad behavior. Even if your accounts are private, you could be required to turn over some or all of your social media history. For example, in custody cases pictures posted by a user showing excessive drinking will be used by an attorney to argue the other parent is unfit to be the primary caretaker of young children. Also, in divorce cases, attorneys have used photos of possessions posted on social networking sites by the other side to show the user is in a better financial situation than they asserted in court documents.
The court will seriously consider a user's comments on a social media site in a family law case. If the one side makes comments about how much they dislike the other side, the court will consider that as an example of the user's inability to encourage a relationship between the children and the other party. A user should be very careful about posting comments on what they might do when children are around and what sort of different behavior they may engage in when children are not home.
What Should You Do?
- Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want a judge to see, even if your account is private or only friends can see it.
- Don’t post anything bad about the other parent.
- Don’t post pictures of you acting irresponsibly or engaging in illegal activities.
What about deleting material?
- If a lawsuit has started, don’t delete anything. You can change your privacy settings. You should be even more careful about what you post.
- If you have deleted material in the past, keep a record of what you have deleted. You may need to disclose that later.
- Deleted material may still be accessible. The other side might have taken a screen shot or the information was saved in an archive.
Are there things that I should do with my social media accounts after breaking up with someone?
To protect your accounts and keep your former partner from accessing your information, consider doing the following:
- Log out of all your social media accounts—go to your privacy settings or personal settings and log out of accounts everywhere.
- Change your password.
- Set up two factor authentication.
Look at who are your friends on social media and consider limiting those people who can see everything you post. Use your privacy settings. The information you post must still be turned over if asked about it in a lawsuit, but fewer people will know what is going on.
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans.
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:
- Call 800-532-1275.
- Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
- Apply online at iowalegalaid.org
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org. A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.