We feel we should point out that, in the midst of your reading this blog entry, there is a very strong likelihood that you are presently under electronic surveillance. It is furthermore quite likely that you have been under said surveillance for some time. A good number of activities in which you’ve recently been involved have been observed, cataloged and indexed without your foreknowledge. Certain things you’ve been doing under an assumption of privacy have been recorded and later seen by persons who do not have your best interests in mind. A handful of your more unpopular or controversial opinions, previously known only to you and certain trusted confidants, have been made available as a matter of public record.
We are not talking about spy rings or conspiracy theories. We are talking about your involvement with the phenomenon of social networking. Insofar as you personally are involved with websites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc., or blogging, the “electronic surveillance” we spoke of is occurring with your willing consent.
We put entirely too much information about ourselves on the Web. Although I find it personally distasteful, there are millions of people who enjoy the posting and publishing the minutiae of their lives. Clearly, this phenomenon has been taken too far by those who choose to chronicle and have even filmed themselves committing crimes in public and then willfully uploaded these videos to sites such as YouTube for consumption. They are seemingly oblivious to the fact that such recordings, liable to be seen by millions of people, would eventually find their way to being reviewed by local press or law enforcement agencies.
Wherever your particular involvement with social networking lies, we are going to discuss the ramifications of social networking with the popular website Facebook as our main emphasis since it is among the top three most popular websites visited every day. However, much (if not all) of this material will also be applicable to users of MySpace, and to a lesser extent, personal blogs.
Concerning Facebook, many Albuquerque family law attorneys will attest to one very critical fact; Facebook is a veritable gold mine for discovering information about opposing parties which can frequently lead to more advantageous outcomes with respect to custody, property settlements, etc. for those whom the attorneys are representing. In the course of researching some of our own cases, Cortez & Hoskovec, LLC attorneys have found photographic and textual evidence of opposing parties’ involvement in activities such as drug abuse, giving alcohol to minors, and adultery. One opposing party frequently wrote on Facebook about how unhappy and annoyed she was with her children. These writings provided our attorneys with evidence compelling enough to have our client awarded primary custody of the children. It is worth repeating that, in all of the above examples, every piece of information we gathered from Facebook was posted there intentionally by the opposing parties.
Knowing all of this, your first (and probably best) inclination is to begin deleting any pictures, written comments, or other posts on your Facebook page which portray you in anything less than a favorable light. This is all well and good, but bear in mind that certain damage may already be done. If you were to upload to Facebook a photo of yourself (hypothetically) drunk and nearly passed out on the street, then decide to delete that photo as little as two minutes later, within that timeframe copies of that picture will have already been distributed to the Facebook news feeds of anyone currently in your Friends list who happens to be actively browsing Facebook at that time. Although the picture was deleted from your news feed, it takes very little time for any one of those other people to print, or download, a copy of that photo before it is recalled. The longer something unfavorable about you has been posted online, the greater likelihood exists that someone has already made a copy of it. With this in mind, we offer the following pieces of advice for regulating who exactly has access to what you post on Facebook:
- Change the settings of your Facebook account from “Public” to “Friends Only” – By default, a brand new Facebook account is openly accessible to anyone, known or unknown to you, registered on that website. Your posts, pictures, etc. are visible to everybody. The preferred privacy setting for one’s profile is to limit its visibility to persons you have added to your “Friends” list. Refer to Facebook’s online help documentation for instructions on how to do this if you haven’t already enabled this setting. Make sure you set the privacy level to “Friends Only”, as opposed to “Friends and Friends of Friends Only”, for reasons which will be made evident in the below points.
- Know who your “Friends” really are – There is a misperception in social networking that the more “Friends” we have associated with our Facebook profile, the more popular we in fact are. Common sense, however, suggests, that it is probably unrealistic for us to be directly (or even casually) acquainted with an excess of five-hundred or more people online and still be able to reliably account for every name and face. Take a close look at your Friends list and ask yourself, on a per-person basis: Do I actually know this person? Have I met him face to face? How many times have I had a real conversation with her? Anyone whom you cannot personally reconcile through direct experience should be removed from your Friends list. This is especially true of persons of whom your only knowledge is through online interaction, such as someone who initiated a Friend request with you, sight unseen. Opposing parties in family law cases have been known to fabricate completely false online personas for the sake of gaining access to the knowledge of another’s personal life.
- Know who your real friends are – This sounds identical to item 2 above, but the distinction is important. Interpersonal relationships can be complicated. You and an ex-spouse may have a mutual pool of real-world friends, many of whom populate both of your Facebook Friends lists. Similarly, you may believe yourself to still be on good terms with some members of your ex-spouse’s immediate or extended family, such as your former siblings-in-law or an aunt residing in another state. So they, too, still inhabit your Friends list. In these instances, a breakup or a divorce has the potential to shift sympathies among shared friends oh-so-slightly to one side or the other, completely unbeknownst to you. Something slightly critical you write about your ex-spouse will eventually be made known by the “friend” who’s more in his/her camp than your own. Operating under the adage that “blood is thicker than water”, those former in-laws are much more likely to be – let’s not sugarcoat this – spying on you, and reporting back anything that gives their kinfolk leverage over yours wherever matters may be pending in family court. If you followed the advice in item 2 and reduced your Facebook Friends list to only people you know, then item 3 here is about reducing the list further to only people you can trust.
- Remember that you’re not the only one with a phone and/or a Facebook account – Even if you have the foresight to not directly post pictures or write things on Facebook which can be problematic in regard to your family law matters, remember that there is a strong likelihood someone else can and will do this, with or without intention of harming your case. Using the example again of being drunk and passed out in the street, virtually everybody else at that same party is likely carrying a device which can photograph, film, tweet, text, or otherwise document and report your inebriated state to the world at large with no consent needed or given on your end. At the risk of sounding paranoid, anybody carrying a cell phone, or who has access to the Internet, has the potential to be spying on you. Keep than in mind before embarking on an action that may embarrass you later on if it is revealed.
In summary of the points above, never post online, or allow to be posted online, any evidence of behaviors, beliefs, or actions which you are not prepared to defend or explain to the world at large.