In some families, it’s a constant tug-o-war where the kids are concerned. Almost every issue that it is possible to fight over can and, in some cases, will be fought over.
I find that, more and more often, the children’s social media presence is one of those issues. One parent wants to share (or, overshare, as far as the other parent is concerned), and the other wants to keep the children’s internet presence more minimal. Drama often ensues and, in some cases, we really can’t resolve the issue and end up litigating it in front of a judge.
There’s no hard and fast legal rules as it relates to social media presence for children. As you probably are already aware, parents do all sorts of things – from literally posting pictures every single day, to complete social media radio silence. Surely you can understand both sides. On the one hand, it’s hard not to be so proud of your children that you feel like you’ll burst. It’s hard not to want to share every single special moment on Facebook or Snapchat or Insta, especially if you’re a millennial or younger. Social media has become such a framework for our everyday lives, it’s hard to imagine NOT documenting some of the more special moments in life.
On the other hand, though, there are all sorts of issues that other parents point out with respect to social media. There’s the risk that your children will be found by sexual predators, especially with the wave of attention that human trafficking has recently been getting. The more people know about you and your children – like what their typical routines are like as well as where they go to school and other information like that, which could easily be gleaned off of social media – the more they potentially become targets. Not only that, but is it fair to post pictures of a child before he or she has an opportunity to give permission – or not? We’re sort of at the beginning of this digital revolution, and it’s hard to know how the information that you post will be saved and stored and later trotted out to be used against your child – when, say, he applies for college or his first job, or at some other, unforeseen, inopportune moment.
This issue has been in the news, too! Recently, I saw an article where Apple Martin (daughter of former Coldplay member Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow) told her mom (after she shared a picture of Apple with her on a ski vacation), “Mom we have discussed this. You may not post anything without my consent”. Now, you may not have 5.3 million followers like Gwyneth Paltrow, and you may or may not feel like Apple’s comment was disrespectful towards her mother, but you can’t help but see the potential issues here, especially as your children near adulthood.
How do judges feel about sharing images of the children via social media?
Judges – as usual, on these discretionary issues – run the gamut. Some judges, as you can imagine, are very old fashioned, and many don’t really understand social media (or the need to share quite as freely as some of us who are a bit younger). That can lead to one of two reactions: the first, that social media is unnecessary, and there’s no reason to share pictures of children there, and the second, that until the children can weigh in themselves, there’s no real harm to them.
You have to remember – courts are reactive, not proactive. The “best interests of the child” standard is up to interpretation, and often, if you can’t actually demonstrate that harm will come to the child from the judge reaching a different decision, it may not be enough to convince the judge that he or she can take away a parent’s right to share that kind of information online.
That the child “may” be a victim of human trafficking, or some other potentially large leap, is often not enough to be convincing. That your child’s father is really only posting to use the children as pawns (and show off his superdad moments) is probably also not convincing.
Of course, it’s all down to the facts in any particular case. It’s going to depend on what is being shared and in what context, and the judge may attach some parameters. In a recent case that one of the attorneys in our office handled, the judge said that dad wasn’t allowed to attach any identification to the pictures – specifically, that the children’s names could not be used. Apparently, to this judge, in this case, the fact that DAD’S name was attached (it was his Facebook account) wasn’t enough.
I don’t personally find that persuasive. I’m a millennial, so I’m pretty familiar with how much information is shared on those sites. Personally, I’m not comfortable with sharing very much information about my children on social media. I’m not total radio silence, but I try to be very close to (though, sometimes, my mama pride just can’t handle it and I have to share – sorry, kids). I know plenty (maybe virtually all?) of my friend’s kid’s names by following my friends on social media. And not just the friends that I’m actually still close to! I feel like that is pretty identifying. But – as I am also well aware, I am NOT a judge.
It’s a hot button issue, and one that will probably get more and more attention as time goes on. As we realize more what information is stored about us (and about our children!) online, we’ll have more to say on the subject over the next couple of years. Ideally, it’s best if you and your child’s father agree on a social media strategy, including whether and how much to post about your children. That’s fairly idealistic, though, and not always possible; no matter what, some parents will continually bicker about every point, this one included.
For more information, or to discuss your case in a little more detail with a licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorney, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.