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Social Media and Family Law

Let’s talk about social media and family law.  This is something Kim Kardashian and Kanye West have struggled with very publicly lately, proving, among other things, that they’re Just Like Us. Obviously, they’re not actually. But bear with me.

Social media in Family Law is starting to be used as a weapon. What we post can be used both for and against us. Social media is a great provider of “receipts”. An Instagram account, for example, can provide a beautiful chronological accounting of a relationship in pictures and quotes. This is helpful, for example, when setting out evidence in support of an Adult Interdependent Relationship.  

But these accounts can also be harmful when our clients use them as a weapon- when posting about the other party or their children. The information people publicly post is often more personal and, sometimes, brutal, than what they’d say in person.  Why is this? Psychologists have studied this phenomenon.

Apparently, we suffer a disconnect when posting from a private space, not fully understanding that we are communicating with the world. We therefore post things we would never otherwise say. The term for this is “online disinhibition effect” (For further reading, see Dr John Suler’s article: “The Online Disinhibition Effect”). Dr. Suler defines this term as the pervasive phenomenon whereby “people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say and do in the face-to-face world” because they “loosen up, feel less restrained, and express themselves more openly”. This becomes a problem when what is posted goes on to live forever on the internet.

All of this is a reminder to consider the ramifications of your past and present social media posts on your family law matter. This is also a friendly reminder not to post negatively about your former spouse, children, or others in a public forum that can be used against you in an affidavit.

It is now not uncommon to include provisions in orders (among them, restraining orders) about what parties can and cannot post.  For example, an order may include a provision stating:

Neither party shall share or “post” anything on any social media site, whether public or private, about the Children, the other party, the separation, the details of the legal proceedings and the other party’s partners or family members.

Neither party shall post any pictures of the children on any social media site, whether public or private. 

What should we do with respect to the social media accounts of children?  Kim and Kanye are fighting about their 8-year-old daughter North having a Tik-Tok account. Ye is not on board. I have a client who faced the same issue with his young daughter. It’s hard – our children are growing up in a very different world from the one we grew up in.

Paul Davis is an online safety expert and educator for both parents and children in Canada. If you have time, it is worth watching some of his videos and hearing him speak.  As a parent, I found what he shared to be helpful. I share some of his tips:  

  1. Do not allow technology in a child’s bedroom. He advises that children on a screen should be in the vicinity of a parent. You should not isolate a child and technology, especially when it’s connected to the internet.
  2. He does not recommend a child having a social media account until they are 13 years old (or, the end of grade 8, heading into high school). In fact, he recommends that if you need to get a hold of your child prior to this age, get them a flip phone.
  3. Sit down with your kids and go through their phone. Ensure their accounts are private, password protected (and you know the passwords), Also ensure that all followers on their accounts are people that they actually know and have a relationship with. 
  4. Understand every app that your child is using, and who they can and cannot contact (and who can contact them in it). 
  5. Sexuality, social media and smart phones do not mix. The internet is forever. 
  6. Finally, and this applies to parents too: never let your emotions have an unfiltered path to your fingertips.