Some People Call Them Posts, Attorneys Call Them Exhibit A
Survey: 1 in 10 adults will share your private or sensitive information online.
Posted Feb 12, 2018
In 2015, a PEW Research survey, Social Media and Teen Friendships, found that teens felt that 88 percent of people shared too much information about themselves online.
We understand that these cyber-blunders can have a long-lasting effect on your future (both emotionally and financially), but what happens when it breaks the law?
Everything you send or post online has the potential to end up an exhibit in court someday. Not everything you say or type online is appropriate or allowed. You have to learn the boundaries of free speech. Defamation is not condoned as part of free
speech. Opinions or satire are one thing, but if you’re presenting something that is incorrect and damaging to an individual’s reputation as if it’s a statement of fact, it may land you in legal trouble.
According to a YouGov Survey, 1 in 10 American adults will share sensitive or private information about you on the Internet without your consent. Social media is not a place where anyone should have any expectations of privacy—even with the strongest of settings.
Even a simple click can potentially be incriminating if it’s been deemed off limits. After a nasty divorce, one New York woman, “Mariela,” was under a restraining order to avoid all forms of contact with her former husband’s family, including her former sister-in-law. When she wrote the word “stupid” in a Facebook post and tagged her sister-in-law’s name, a judge ruled that it counted as electronic communication, akin to sending an email or making a phone call. For violating the court’s protective order, Mariela is now facing up to a year in jail.
What you post could also trigger an investigation that could land you in serious trouble. Life insurance companies are now using social media to screen clients’ applications. Did you conceal that you’re an avid scuba diver, while your spring break vacation photos give you away? Claim to be a non-smoker, but your friend tags you in a photo with a cigarette between your lips? File for a workman’s comp claim for a back injury, then “check in” on the ski slopes? A charge of insurance fraud could do permanent damage to your online and offline reputation.
Ill-advised posts can also come back to bite you in family or divorce court. Too many parents involved in custody battles have found that seemingly small things, like a Facebook photo of themselves with a drink in hand or a description of their lifestyle on a dating site like Match.com, have been allowed into evidence as an example of poor character. “A lot of divorce is ‘he-said, she-said’ stuff,” explains Kristin Zurek, a family law litigator with Cordell & Cordell in Missouri. “Judges or child advocates are always looking for other sources of information, so naturally social media posts or platforms are where people go to get that."
"Don’t put anything in writing you don’t want to see handed to you with an Exhibit A sticker.” Sound obvious? “One lady was asking for support, saying she was bedridden and too sick to work, but someone posted a picture of a party at a bar—and there she is, dancing on a table and holding a bottle of alcohol,” Zurek says. “People just don’t think.” Another woman’s boyfriend nearly cost her custody when his gun-pride Facebook posts were raised as a safety concern.
Zurek tells clients not only to stop posting on social media while their case is active but also to go back and tighten up their history. Locking down your privacy settings may not be enough—opposing counsel may play dirty and have your ex convince a mutual friend to access your account and screenshot anything damning. She also recommends telling your wider network to be discreet. One of her clients told the court that his new girlfriend wasn’t moving into his home—but the truth was exposed when she posted her new address on Facebook and bragged about moving in with him. “Your network needs to know what you’re going through,” she says, “and to stop posting.”
Tips to safe sharing
- Conduct. Check in with yourself. Never put a temporary emotion on the permanent Internet.
- Content. Limit your sharing. 15 minutes of humor is never worth a lifetime of humiliation—not to mention a process server.
- Caring. Your tone matters. You may not agree with everything you read online, approach it constructively. Don't be combative. Give yourself permission to click-out if you're having a bad day. Kindness goes a long way.
- Think twice, post once. If you wouldn't say it offline, don't post it online.
- De-clutter your friends online. It's about quality over quantity. Not all your cyber-acquaintances have your best interests at heart.
Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate. Sourcebooks, October 2017.