by Jonathan M. Barlow
First and foremost, I want to apologize if this article seems to be “preaching” but I care about children, people, and resolving custodial disputes as effectively – and kindly – as possible. I do want to introduce myself, as I am filling in for Tina Seymour Demoran, your regularly scheduled writer for this segment. My name is Jonathan M. Barlow and I am a senior associate attorney with Seymour Law Firm, PLLC in Biloxi, Mississippi. I handle the majority of our firm’s contested custody disputes, which often include a divorce, but not always. I also handle criminal defense matters for the firm, as well as a plethora of other cases. Though I am an attorney, none of this information is to be considered legal advice; rather, this article is to just give you some points to consider – should you or a loved one become involved in a custody dispute – in how to properly handle yourself on social media outlets.
I get it; I am twenty-six years old and grew up with computers, cell-phones, Myspace, Facebook, and so forth. While social media is a tremendous tool for keeping friends together, spreading information, and sharing moments with family, it often becomes intertwined in many of the custody battles that I handle. Though certain rules determine whether or not a piece of evidence will come into trial, we often see the admission of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts, amongst other items such as text records, which often leave client and attorney in a state of shock or dismay. The not so old adage, “if you put it online it’s out there somewhere” certainly reigns true in the course of a custody proceeding.
For every tweet you’ve retweeted, drunken night video you’ve posted, or rant you’ve gone on, someone can find it.
As such, my first piece of advice is that if you have done one of the above (or all of the above) clear your page up. They say that first impressions matter and in a world that is so technologically driven you’re giving off a first impression before anyone even knows who you are. The first thing I do when reviewing an applicant for a position or a client for a case is to look at their Facebook. This quick search often gives me valuable insight into an individual and who they are. If you’ve ever dropped off a resume to a potential employer and never heard back from them, this could be why. As such, this leads me to my second and third points: (a) make your profile private and; (b) only befriend those persons that you really know. By making your profile private, you limit the availability of information about yourself (or those things you repost) that you simply don’t want others to see. Moreover, nothing – neither the Courts nor the policies of Facebook – requires that your profile be public and accessible. As to friends, I am not telling you to only add those persons you know on an intimate level, but I would recommend limiting your friends to mutual friends of your friends, who you do know. I say this for a particular reason; when you find yourself in an ugly custody battle you do not know who is your friend or foe. You also don’t know who has a fake profile (known as an “anon” or anonymous profile) and is simply using that page to track you for updates to the other side. While you may think, “this would never happen to me,” I can assure you that it often does. Nothing derails a client nor his attorney as quickly as another attorney passing a person on the stand a screenshot of some outlandish post, photo, etc., that your client said did not exist.
The final tip I have is to keep any and all familial issues off of the computer. Though Facebook and other platforms are great outlets for communication, they should not be used to vent about problems within the home. First, you create emotional responses in other persons that aren’t aware of the full story, and sometimes physical altercations and criminal charges result because of such a post. As my grandfather would say, “between two stories you’ll find the truth,” and by placing your version out there you are only causing complications that may have to be dealt with down the line. Further, if your kid is at an age where they are on social media they too can see these posts, and that hurts them as much as the other parties.
Finally, I just think my father’s advice to me, “keep your home life in the home,” is as sound as anything I’ve ever heard.