Evidence of infidelity culled from Facebook activity is now being cited in a third of all divorce cases, according to recent research.
British law firm Lake Legal recently conducted a review of over 200 cases and found that wandering spouses often gave away damning information about their movements that was later used against them.
“Social media provides an ongoing log of our lives,” said managing partner Lyn Ayrton. “The sharing of written posts and pictures, often with geo-tagging, provides a record of activities that can be used in a court case.”
“Often, if a partner refers to an impending bonus, a new job offer, or plans for a holiday, it may provide evidence that they are not telling the truth about their financial position. At the very least, it could call their credibility into question.”
“It's like having a massive public noticeboard.”
Old Flames, Online Sparks
Researchers found that a common scenario was for one partner to track down an ex online. Sometimes, people just have a problem keeping their stories straight.
“Somebody said she was not in a relationship with anybody new but then posted a message inviting everybody to a housewarming party for her and her boyfriend,” said Ayrton.
The use of social media to prove infidelity isn’t completely new. A 2010 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that 81% of divorce attorneys reported an increase in the use of social networking information in divorce proceedings. Facebook came out as the leader for cheater info, with 66% percent of online evidence coming from that site alone.
Different countries have different online weak spots, and WhatsApp, the instant messaging service owned by Facebook, is reportedly cited in 40% of divorce cases in Italy.
“Lovers can now exchange risqué photos of themselves, and we have seen adulterers using the service to maintain three or four relationships – it’s like dynamite,” Gian Ettore Gassani, president of the Italian Association of Matrimonial Lawyers, told The Times of London.
The Italian survey also noted differences in how men and women use social media for cheating, with men leaving themselves more vulnerable.
"Women tend to delete incriminating messages or photos after they have seen them," Gassani said. "Men are more likely to save the message or photograph to come back to in the future. And that makes them more likely to get caught."
Private or Public?
While getting a better handle on complicated privacy settings might keep some incriminating posts from coming to light, the internet is still full of useful — and completely public — information about users.
“We regularly find clients coming to us with information they have found which is available in the public domain with proof of a relationship,” said Julian Hawkhead, a managing partner at Stowe Family Law.
“However, the Internet can also provide a useful source of other information. Our in-house forensic accountancy team will often find rich pickings in gathering financial information through a Google search about a party, their location, where they have been and what they are doing with their lives.”
“People need greater awareness of what information they are leaving about themselves on the Internet which is otherwise waiting to be found at the touch of a button.”