The right to free speech is probably the most recognized amendment in the U.S. Constitution, but there has always been considerable debate over what the Founding Fathers meant by “freedom of speech”. Regardless of their intent, amendments are in themselves, amenable to change and clarification. Over time, both the state and federal courts have ruled on numerous cases that have resulted in limitations on what a person can say or publish. However, most of these cases involved major publications like newspapers and magazines. The idea of limiting what individual people can or can't say has always been a touchy subject, especially within the context of social media.
The problem with social media is that while a person has ownership over their own account, the information they post can be viewed instantaneously by the general public. Hence, anything you post has the potential to wreak havoc on a very wide scale, for a very long time. This is a common issue with divorcing spouses, who use their social media accounts to express their feelings about the divorce process, and their fears over being alone, starting over, etc. While social media can serve as an outlet for your feelings, you may also end up posting things about yourself or your ex that could end up hurting you in court.
Take, for example, the case of Fitzgerald v. Duff, in which the defendant requested a reduction in his child support obligation, based on the allegation that his income was lower than what was used in the child support calculations. The plaintiff disputed the defendant's claim of reduced circumstances, showing social media postings in which the defendant bragged about his financial success, including details about how busy he was with new business, and the television advertising he had just purchased. The judge accepted the posts as credible evidence to show that the defendant's income appeared to be more than sufficient to cover the current child support amount.
Social media posts are also starting to play a critical role in custody disputes. Photos or videos of a parent drinking and/or using drugs, or engaging in lascivious behavior may be presented as evidence to show why that parent should not be given primary custody. It could even be used to reduce a parent's visitation time, or restrict them to supervised visits only. Even parents who are careful about what they post on their page sometimes end up including questionable links or retweeting incriminating posts from their friends. In short, it's very important to monitor your social media accounts on a regular basis, and carefully consider what you choose to post, or allow on your page. The role of social media in family law proceedings is much more complex than what has been described here, and how it figures into your situation depends on your own unique circumstances. For more information on social media and the law, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.