Beware of Social Media – The Self-Poisoning Pen

Family Law

Examples of social media gaffes are everywhere—from inappropriate pictures to job ending Tweets, we know it can happen. One of my favourite ethics websites even went so far as to suggest that it would be a responsible decision for the government to ban the use of Twitter for all government employees, or at least all highly placed officials. But the reality is, people do use social media and, like any tool, it can be used for you or against you. There are obvious examples such as someone claiming they’re disabled in an ICBC case posting running marathon times (obvious, and yet people do it anyway), but there are also less obvious examples. Here are some things to bear in mind when you’re in the midst of family litigation or about to be in the midst of it:

  1. Change your passwords—this step is critical. It makes sure that people can’t gain access, but it also makes sure that people can’t post things while pretending to be you.
  2. Don’t be afraid to unfriend or otherwise disconnect from exes – while it may seem slightly tacky, for the duration of the case.  If you have children, for as long as those children are minors, you’re going to need to watch not just what you put there but what other people put there.
  3. Do not under any circumstances use it as a place to complain about your ex, threaten your ex, or comment on your case directly; (avoid amusing but problematic bumper stickers, too, especially if you have children).
  4. Do not let other people post things on your wall that are problematic.
  5. You should limit your posting.

On this last point, Beattie v. Beattie, 2013 SQKB 127, is an instructive case. There, a woman who was attempting to argue that spousal support should continue was cut off, primarily on the basis of her Facebook postings indicating that she and her new partner were living the high life. That, combined with the fact that support was needs-based (there do not appear to have been any children) led to a termination of spousal support. While in this case, the decision did not indicate that there were any allegations that these posts were somehow taken out of context, people have a natural tendency in the public sphere to frame their lives as being happier or better than they actually are. People will frequently post about a party they went to, more rarely going to a psychiatrist’s office to deal with depression, but the record they create is the record they create. Whether you’re a payor or a recipient, it may cause questions to arise regarding how limited your spending is or your funds are, how much you’re looking for work, and how much stress you’re actually under. Further, while your lawyer can tell you what to do in future, it appears to be a little uncertain as to whether and in what circumstances a lawyer can tell you to delete posts, which may essentially be destroying evidence. There are circumstances in which this can come back to bite you. The best thing to do is not to have those posts in existence to begin with.

While it’s better, particularly in a family law context, to get some legal advice before you run into trouble, if you find yourself in a tricky spot through unduly carefree use of social media, you may wish to consult with a lawyer about the best approach to deal with the situation once it’s been raised.

For more information, please contact one of our Family Law lawyers.