melissa_v_burns

Talk Is Cheap… Or Is It? How Facebook Content Can Lead to Legal Action

Since its advent in early 2004, Facebook has become as familiar and as pervasive as the air we breathe – to such an extent that it’s been a ground for public concern for quite a while now, and not just because of self-evident issues like cyber-bullying. Social media, and Facebook, in particular, wield amounts of personal data beyond imagination (and leverage it for their commercial interests, too). The majority of users have no clue as to how far it spreads, and whatever one chooses to share with ‘friends of friends’ can go a long way – and much farther than they ever wished. A casual line or two about someone, a photo or a video that some users shared might land them neck-deep in legal trouble and impressive five-digit fines – or in the thick of civil or criminal investigation.

Recent years saw social media becoming a ground to mine for evidence to use in the courtroom. They are likely to gain greater importance in this quality, and a shrewd law specialist will benefit from closely observing this trend.

Divorce proceedings and child custody disputes are the most obvious instances when Facebook content can be employed to fortify a case. This means that any lawyer working in this area should pay special attention to this topic and get familiar with important precedents and current legislature dealing with cases of such kind. Female divorce lawyers should be particularly interested in this sphere of law, for they have a ready-made target clientele that is more likely to use their services – many women facing divorce proceedings feel much more comfortable and sure of themselves when another woman is protecting their interests.    

Going through a divorce is certainly a harrowing and exasperating experience, but many people go too far when seeking support from their Facebook friends. Aching to pour their heart out telling all and sundry how awfully their spouse wronged them, they put themselves in danger of getting sued for defamation – if they cannot provide enough proof for every word they wrote.

Some vengeful spouses go to an extreme of publishing explicit content about their former ‘better half’. While they might do it purely in the heat of passion, the consequences can get pretty ugly – distress and humiliation for one spouse, a lawsuit against the other, and severe damage to the reputation of both. Following several cases, many legislatures are considering to criminalize revenge porn (apart from it being a civil offense). And because Facebook and other social media are too popular a carrier that can spread any content like wildfire, it’s ill-advised to share anything even remotely sensitive about one’s ex.

Sometimes, though, people run into trouble, not because of malicious intent like posting revenge porn, and not for saying too much about an already aggrieved partner, but out of sheer carelessness – and not even their own but of their family members. A ‘proud daughter’ bragging on Facebook ruined the successful settlement in her father’s age discrimination lawsuit against his former employer – she spilled the beans without knowing about the restrictions of the settlement’s confidentiality agreement.

Speaking of people indiscriminately posting all kinds of personal life details on Facebook, we cannot but mention that seemingly innocuous and mundane content can turn into the compromising material. Mentions or photo/video records of alcohol or substance abuse, driving without a license, or anything that hints at disorderly conduct can seriously complicate matters for their author if a case comes to civil or criminal court, undermine their alibi and discredit testimony. Even if a person is involved in misdemeanor (or something graver) but indirectly, they can get dragged into trouble because of what their friends posted. The way out? The photo tagging feature, though notorious in many other respects, can help – it’s wise to review every piece of content every time someone tags you.

Evidently, ordinary users cannot control how much of their personal info Facebook employs and to what ends; but God helps those who help themselves, so watching your words on social media is your best bet.

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