“Dance like no one is watching; email like one day it may be read aloud in a deposition.”
A few months ago I came across this funny slogan that, due to a custody case I was working on, was fairly relevant. I posted it on Facebook hoping it would get my clients, current and future, thinking. Over the next few weeks, the relevance of the expression became even more apparent due to several prominent stories in the media and the involvement of social media and digital evidence in several divorce, custody, and personal injury cases the firm is litigating. It made me realize that most people do not fully understand that what they put on the internet can have some serious repercussions in their life down the road.
Digital devices, social media, texting, email, etc. are all a part of our everyday life in this modern era. More and more people even have devices in their homes that via voice command can turn on their lights, adjust their thermostat, play their favorite music, or accidentally order products off their favorite online shopping website. These devices can also possibly record evidence of a murder, as is the case in Arkansas, where authorities served a search warrant on an individual's Amazon Echo after a dead body was found in his hot tub and the police suspected the Echo may have recorded some evidence of the foul play. Other evidence was sought from a digital water meter recorded that recorded when water was used and how much was used. Police hoped this could show when a large volume of water may have been used to clean up evidence of the crime. Pretty neat devices but, regardless if we want or need them to be recording our every move, they just maybe.
Similarly, what you put on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, text, or email may have repercussions down the road that you did not anticipate. You may not want that text you sent your ex to be made an exhibit in court, you definitely don’t want those pictures of your weekend getaway in Vegas to be admitted as evidence. So what can we do to still keep in touch and keep connected with friends and family while minimizing our risk? Here are a couple of suggestions;
1. Stop and Think
Next time you see something on the internet that makes you mad, or you think is funny, or the next time you want to share those pics of you and your friends riding jet ski’s at the lake, stop and think before you post. Who might look at those pictures next month or next year? Will you be applying for a job down the road with a potential employer who will want to review your social media accounts before hiring you? Many employers do. Maybe you don’t want those pictures of you in Vegas to be shown to the judge when you are arguing that you are broke and can’t pay child support or spousal maintenance. Likewise, think long and hard about your texts. Those texts may live on forever on the phone of the person to whom they were sent, or on the servers of the telephone company. Down the road that text might one day rear its ugly head in the courtroom and come back to bite you. This is not to say you need an attorney to review each and every message you send but just slow down and think before you send that angry message or an inappropriate picture. This one simple step can cut a lot of those problems off at the pass. Stop and ask yourself if posting that picture or comment is really necessary.
2. Update Your Privacy Settings
Unless you are 14 years old you are probably not up to date on each and every new social media app, device, or website. I certainly am not. However, I am familiar with some of the most common, and one thing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have in common is the ability to control who can see your content. Using the privacy features these websites offer is a very handy tool to make sure you know who is looking at your pictures and your posts. Do you need to share your pictures with the entire world, or are they something that maybe just your handpicked friends need to see? Your cutting political and social commentary? Maybe Frank from the HR department of your next job might take issue with some of your stances. Take a few minutes and go through and check out the privacy settings on your social media and think about just who needs to know what you are doing with your life.
3. Friend or Foe?
How many Facebook friends do you have? Do you know all of them? When was the last time you spoke to them in person? On the phone? If you are like most people, you probably have hundreds of “friends” who you never speak with or see in person but you allow them access to your life through your Facebook page. Ask yourself why? Are they really your friend? Maybe they have changed in the 20 years since you graduated middle school with them and lost touch. Maybe they are much better friends with your soon to be ex-husband or the guy who rear-ended your car? The same guy you are now suing. Why would you let them know your every move and give them updates on your daily life? Take a minute to go through your social media accounts, and give some thought to whether you really want to be sharing your life with each and every “friend” or “follower” who is monitoring you.
While Russian or teenage hackers are probably not interested in getting into your email, it's still a good idea to have a secure password and to practice good online security. Use long and unique passwords for different websites and email. When you log in to a website with a password be sure to log out afterward. Clear your browser history and cookies cache every so often. Don’t share your password with everyone. These seem like common sense measures but when couples separate, one party may not know that the other has the password access to their email, Facebook, etc. This can cause serious problems and can raise some serious legal issues as one party can surreptitiously monitor the actions and communications, potential attorney-client communications, of the other party. If you and your spouse or significant other are separating, it's a good idea to go ahead and change those passwords.
It is virtually impossible to be 100% anonymous or protected in today’s digital world unless you are living completely off the grid. However, using the aforementioned methods will hopefully help you stay in touch and connected with friends and family while simultaneously protecting yourself from trouble down the road.