Social Media and Divorce: What Ashley Madison Has Taught Us

Posted on Aug 26, 2015 by Katie Carter

Social media is fast becoming a really serious problem in divorce and custody cases, and not just for husbands who were caught with profile on Ashley Madison. Social media sites are all over the place, and easily offer millions and millions of people the opportunity to screw up their relationships pretty much 24/7.
If the Ashley Madison hack teaches us absolutely nothing else, it’s that very little of what we do on the internet is actually safe. I’ve read a number of different articles on the hack, and their executives have said over and over and over again that they felt they did everything they could to protect the security of their members. They consistently upgraded their systems and invested in all of the top of the line technology available at the time to protect their customers from a breach like this. In fact, one even said that he was present in a recent meeting where they talked about problems and, when asked about what the biggest problem in the business that he could foresee, he said security. Ashley Madison’s executives, whatever else you want to say about them, were hyper concerned with security. They did what they could to protect their member’s privacy. And they failed. Fantastically and very, very publicly.
Now, you may regard them with a smirk and a snide “so what?” but, in all honesty, I have to say that this doesn’t bode well for any of us with an email account, a Facebook profile, a Twitter account, an Instagram app, or an online banking tool. ..Wait, does that include you? If you’re like millions and millions of Americans (like me), it does. And, yes, you should be concerned.
Sure, this particular hack targeted cheating husbands. (Well, it targeted men who may have considered cheating; it doesn’t actually prove that any infidelity actually occurred, at least not to the standard required in Virginia.) You may not feel a whole lot of sympathy for them. But, still, you should keep in mind that, if Ashley Madison can be hacked, so too can your accounts. How would you feel if it was your private email account? Or your confidential medical records? Your text message history? What if it was your credit card, mortgage account, or student loan information? You’d probably feel pretty violated.
It doesn’t happen every day, but social media sites can pose real problems in real cases, including some of the ones that have come into our office. I can’t tell you how many times a snarky remark or a scandalous photo has called into question a client’s ability to parent responsibly. And it’s not just the mainstream sites that can post problems; it’s lesser known sites, too. And, if you can access it, so too can other people. If you’re online posting things—about what a scumbag he is or how he won’t pay child support like he’s supposed to, or even just of your most recent girl’s night in Vegas—you’re handing ammunition to the other site.
I know, I know. Everyone is on social media. Everyone posts stuff. It’s just the way we keep in touch with all the people in our lives. Still, you should take extra special care not to be “that girl” who is always oversharing. As a general rule, you should never post anything that puts you in an unflattering light—and, yes, complaining about other people puts you in an unflattering light, too. Song lyrics, if they’re depressing or crazy-sounding or intentionally ambiguous, can call your judgment and state of mind into question. Pictures you post can make you look insecure, scandalous, hateful, spiteful, or just plain jealous.
You may not care about what’s happening to people who signed up for accounts on Ashley Madison, but you may want to re-think that. It’s a major problem for everyone who has any social media accounts, or any confidential or sensitive information stored anywhere online. These days, there’s a lot of information out there that can be hacked, and it’s scary. It can have permanent and lasting effects on your divorce and custody case, for starters, but also on your credit score, your credibility, and your relationships. I’m sure there’s more, but my imagination is limited.
We all have to be careful of what we’re putting out there on social media about ourselves. Ashley Madison is just the latest in a string of hacks that calls our internet security into question. I’m, of course, particularly concerned about the ramifications in divorce and custody cases, but that’s not the only place that what you say or do can come back to haunt you in a big way. (As, no doubt, many, many husbands are currently finding out.)
Be careful on social media. Post with care. Ask yourself, “if my mom saw this, would I be embarrassed?” Or, even, “if the newspaper published this, would I look bad?” If the answer is yes, it’s probably safest just to keep it to yourself. Don’t hand anyone the key to your own undoing. It’s too much power.
Protect your confidential information online for your own sake. For more information about internet security and family law cases, click here. To schedule an appointment with one of our divorce and custody lawyers or to get more information about one of our divorce or custody seminars, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.