What are you sharing about your kids on Facebook, and how can it impact your divorce or custody case?

There’s no question that ours is a society that shares information first and then thinks later. Usually, that’s not a problem and, even if it is, it’s one of our own making—one that we can choose to deal with (or not), whatever the case may be.
You can certainly choose to share whatever you like, whether other people like it (literally) or not.
When it comes to your children, though, and the information that you choose to share about them (particularly if you’ve got a pending divorce or custody case in Virginia), you may want to be a little bit more careful. Even if you don’t have any kind of divorce or custody case pending, you may want to put some serious thought into what kind of information you put out there.
Years and years ago, I remember being shocked when I was told that information you “delete” from Facebook is really never deleted. It’s archived, and stored, and even if it’s not showing up on your page, that doesn’t mean it’s gone from the world. Try it. Upload a picture, save the URL, and then delete it. Enter the URL. Find the picture? Thought so.
These days, I find it alarming that, when I post pictures, it recognizes faces. It consistently recognizes me, and my position in the picture, and the faces of the friends I often tag in pictures. My sister, my husband, and even my work colleagues (because I post a lot of pictures of what happens at our Girl’s Night Out events!) pop up and are recognized. It was a little disconcerting at first, but I adjusted. After all, it does make tagging pictures (which used to be an arduous process) a lot easier.
Then, I started getting notifications about the memories I have to look back on—messages, pictures, status updates, and alerts from years and years ago. In my case, from sorority sisters, high school friends, my sister (she used to write on my wall a LOT), and even ex boyfriends (ick!). A lot of times, it makes me smile to look back on those things; other times, it makes me cringe. But it still makes me think. What other information about me has been stored?
And I’m not even a major sharer on Facebook. I don’t let Facebook track my location or announce when I’ll be going on vacation. I don’t post every meal I’ve ever eaten or often write on people’s walls. (Most of the time, I send private messages—which I can open up and look back to the beginning of my conversation with a person, even if it was years and years ago!)
Also, I don’t have kids, so I haven’t had to worry about or make decisions about anyone’s privacy other than my own. And while I don’t appreciate it when my friends post pictures of themselves looking fabulous and me looking deformed, I can handle it. After all, I am a willing participant in social media, and I’m old enough to make those kinds of decisions for myself.
The other day, I read an article about why you shouldn’t really post anything about your kids on Facebook.  I’m glad I read it, so I thought that you might be interested, too.
If you think of all the data that is being mined about you, it’s alarming. Right? Now, apply that feeling to your child—your infant, your 2 year old, your kindergartener. Algorithms will be applied to your child, based on the photos and information you’ve shared, to gather tons of information about her. Who she is, where she’ll be, what she might be wearing, and who her friends might be.
What are you sharing, and with whom are you sharing these pictures? Are you building up archives of photos that will harm or embarrass her later? Shouldn’t he have a choice about what type of information is shared about him? Keep in mind that, like photos of yourself, you can’t delete them later. What type of damage can you be doing that you don’t even realize you’re doing?
And, if you have a pending divorce or custody case, what are you saying about yourself as a parent? About your ability to raise and protect your child? Some judges are ambivalent about social media; others actively dislike it. Do you want to do anything to risk losing custody—or, even if it’s not quite to that extreme, that the judge will feel that you’re not as protective of your child (and her privacy) as you should be.
There are a lot of issues here, and part of the problem is that we don’t know how our data will be stored, shared, or used in the future. When I first joined Facebook, back when I was in college in 2005 or so, I had no idea the eventually Facebook would recognize (and tag!) me in pictures. Facial recognition software wasn’t even a thing! And I certainly didn’t know that posts from ex boyfriends would come back to haunt me! I also didn’t know that Facebook would keep ALL of my pictures back then, either! Over time, the things that Facebook does has grown and evolved, so it’s impossible to know what it’ll be doing with your child’s data 10, 15, and even 20 years later on down the road.
Will it be possible for college admissions counselors to mine through the data to find out more information about your child? It may be that there’s nothing of note in many of your posts, but you can’t foresee now how it might be used against your child later, either. If the way that Facebook has changed over the years has taught me anything, it’s that nothing you share is safe. Of course, you know that—once you share it, you know it’s no longer private. No matter how restrictive your privacy settings may be, you’ve posted it, and it’s out there. Who knows how it might be used? Who knows who might see it? And, most important of all, who knows that information they’ll glean from it? Will it hurt your child? Will your child be mad or annoyed that you’ve posted those things online, without their knowledge or consent?
I’m not saying that you can’t post pictures of your kids online. Mostly, what I’m saying is that, if you choose to post pictures of your child, do so with full knowledge. Know that you’re posting something you can never take back. Know that your child can’t consent to it. Know that you don’t know how it could be used against him later on. Know that technology is changing, and there are tons of companies out there who just exist to gather digital data—for marketing and advertising purposes, mostly, but who knows what else?
Just think about it. Especially if you’ve got a pending custody or divorce case, think about it. Ask yourself whether what you’re posting could hurt you and your case—or your child—later on? There’s no question that what you’re doing is innocent enough. Childhood is fleeting, and your child is adorable. You want to share. You’re proud. She’s smart. He’s funny. There are so many moments that we all capture these days because of our smartphones. Moments that our parents and grandparents could never have dreamed of being able to capture. (Do you remember that there was a time, long ago, when people didn’t have cameras with them every second of every day? And that, for many people, entire days went by where no pictures were taken at all?) It’s a blessing, but it’s also a curse.
Take care. Make the best choices you can on behalf of your children. There’s no question that it’s difficult to make the choice to not share, especially when many of your friends are so in your face with pictures of their kids and their many accomplishments. Share, if you like, but make sure you take a moment to consider the potential consequences.
You can’t delete it later.
For more information, or to schedule a consultation with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.

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