The OnlyDads Twitter account engages with lots of individuals who are going through divorce/separation. That is perhaps obvious. But it was earlier this year that OnlyDads started receiving emails from companies asking us to advertise their special “divorce packages” whereby they (for money) will track the on-line outpourings on social media of “the ex” that I thought it would be a good turn to add a warning to our websites. We turned to our friend Andrew to write a few cautionary words for us:
You may be a regular reader of this blog and have dropped in directly to see what we are talking about. Alternatively, you may have been pointed at it by Twitter or Facebook. Whatever route you took, you cannot deny that social media, in all its forms, is a powerful medium in this day and age. It permeates all of society – so it is only natural that it is impacting on divorcing couples.
It has been well documented that Facebook is being mentioned in an increasing number of divorce papers, often it seems when one party or the other has got in touch with an old flame via the site. But an increasing number of people are now apparently using their Twitter account to make disparaging remarks about their soon-to-be ex. Some are even setting up Twitter accounts for that express purpose. In days gone by, you may have got together with friends for a coffee or a pint and had a good moan about your estranged spouse. What you said didn’t really go any further. If you use social media to air your views, it is a different story altogether.
Now this presents legal issues in itself that fall well outside family law and on which I do not pretend to be a specialist. However, as I understand it, you are risking defaming a person if you say something disparaging about them to more than one other person in writing. Whether you consider your Twitter account to be a private account or not is not likely to hold much water. Anyone writing anything on a social media platform must accept that it is possible, or even likely, that those views are gong to be copied or forwarded, even if you send it as a private message. You can leave yourself open, then, for legal action. Just look at the furore around comments made about Lord McAlpine, who has already received damages from the BBC and is said to be “going after” people who named him on Twitter, in connection with a BBC Newsnight investigation.
An individual may also inadvertently reveal details about some cases they are not allowed to talk about, particularly if it involves children, leaving themselves open to contempt of court proceedings.
And don’t think you can do things on the quiet if you have only a handful of low-key followers. There are now agencies out there who offer to track social media accounts, presumably to amass incriminating evidence to use either in a divorce case or a possible prosecution. We would urge no one to have anything to do with such agencies.
I mention the wider implications of such behaviour in an effort to deter people from entering into public character-bashing on social media sites for fear of legal proceedings. But there is a more fundamental reason for not gong down this road as well, one with which I have much more first hand experience. Anything that inflames emotions during a divorce is a bad thing. Making disparaging remarks on Twitter certainly fits in that category. It will almost certainly lead to more heartache, particularly if children, other family or friends see a messy split played out in this way. And it is likely it will lead to a divorce taking more time and costing more. Making the other party angry will serve only to make them dig in their heels, making it harder to reach any settlement.
Social media can play a very positive role in society and in family law – after all it helped some of you find this blog! However, it has little positive to offer two people going through a divorce.
Written by Andrew Woolley, family solicitor and founder of divorce and family law firm Woolley & Co. Andrew is an avid social media user, follow him on Twitter – @woolleyandco. For more details visit www.family-lawfirm.co.uk.
If you would like to add your observations and comments for the benefit of others – we would love to hear from you…