One-third of 2011 divorce cases in England implicated Facebook as a cause, according to a survey conducted by a U.K.-based divorce website. The 5,000 people polled cited three reasons for listing Facebook in divorce petitions, including sending inappropriate messages to the opposite sex, posting negative comments about exes on the social network, and friends disclosing a spouse's behaviour.
The survey highlights how burgeoning social media use blurs the line between public and private. The nature of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social media outlets encourages free-spirited commenting, posting and sharing of information.
However, what's posted on social networking sites may not be as private as users think.
When marital problems or other difficulties arise, social media postings are subject to closer and wider scrutiny and take on a new life, often as evidence in custody battles and divorce cases. For example, a Connecticut judge ruled one couple must share social media passwords as part of their divorce agreement, leading to speculation about how and by whom the photos, comments and personal information people share can be used.
Legal experts assert as social media sites grow in popularity, people must be vigilant about what they post and refrain from making disparaging remarks or gossiping with friends about a spouse, children or other parties in a case.
"People need to be careful what they write on their walls, as the courts are seeing these posts being used in financial disputes and children cases as evidence" said Mark Keenan, a spokesman for Divorce-Online.
Divorce cases aren't the only personal legal matters involving social media postings. Apple recently fired an employee who ranted about his job on Facebook, and termination procedures were launched against a New Jersey teacher who called her students "future criminals" on the social network.
Incidents like these could lead users to edit what they do and say on sites out of fear of future recrimination, or even pull away from them altogether, an unwelcome trend for companies like Facebook and Google.
In response, both Facebook and Google+ strengthened privacy controls in recent months to help users feel more secure. Facebook's "smart lists" and Google+'s "circles" features allow users to more tightly control who can see and share their posts and comments.
Site-based privacy controls can help protect users during normal, day-to-day interactions, but during a personal upheaval like a divorce, a list of trusted "friends" may suddenly turn out not to be so trustworthy, highlighting a need for increased user responsibility alongside better privacy protections.
(Source: Forbes.com, 3/01/2012)