When going through the process of separation or divorce, parties often overlook the vulnerability of their digital persona or online presence. In some cases, this is a simple matter of oversight. However, in other instances, people mistakenly believe that because their digital accounts are protected by a password, they are private and therefore safe. This is not always the case though, and sometimes, failing to take simple actions, like changing a password, unsyncing an account, or posting with a mindful filter, can cost people their case in court.
If you want to be sure that your social media posts or emails won’t become evidence, dedicate a bit of time to strengthening your online security and cleaning up your online profiles by following the steps below.
Step 1: Make a list of all of the online websites, stores, banks, social media sites, etc. that you belong to. We don’t often realize quite how many there are until we start to list them. This can be very helpful for keeping track of your digital footprint, but also for getting organized and becoming aware where all your digital information lives. If there is even a tiny chance that your ex has the password to any of your personal accounts, change the password! And, unsync joint accounts.
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Step 2: Decide which of these sites you want to remain a member of, and which ones are no longer being used or serving a purpose. There is nothing wrong with maintaining your online accounts, but it is always a good idea to evaluate the utility of these accounts. To use a very old reference, having a Myspace account today is similar to keeping your first driver’s license. It’s not serving any substantial purpose, but the information in there is important, and you wouldn’t want it being placed in the wrong hands. It’s better to properly “dispose” of inactive accounts. Please make sure these accounts are closed out properly and that they no longer store your confidential information, or anything that your ex or their legal / investigative team could use against you.
Step 3: Do a bit of digital housekeeping. Websites and social media sites accumulate shocking amounts of personal information, including your spending habits and travel patterns. While not all of that data is permissible in court, it could be used against you in a variety of other ways. As previously mentioned make sure you clean out an account before you close it; once you have deleted your account, you rarely have any recourse to go back in and correct or remove something. For active accounts, look back a few years and see if there are there any photos, comments or videos of you, posted by you, or shared by you that you are not 100% comfortable having presented to a judge. Social media may feel private, but in reality, that’s not true. You know that the things you share or post only represent a small portion of who you are, but it’s better if you do not have to try and prove that in court.
Don’t forget about billing information attached to joint accounts. Most people are pretty good about cleaning up their social media accounts, but they tend to be less diligent when it comes to shopping apps, AppleIDs, dating profiles, etc. This can be a big mistake. This information in the wrong hands can be very damaging to the credibility of your case, and in some cases, information like an AppleID can be used to incur costs, manipulate information, track your location or activity, or even make it look like you sent something from your account to someone that you didn’t.
There is nothing wrong with having an online presence. Many people are more active online than in “real life,” and just because you are going through a separation or a divorce doesn’t mean that you have to stop being you.
However, if you do maintain an online presence, then you should be aware that your online actions can have real world consequences. If any photos or videos taken of or by you, comments or jokes shared by you, or activities or interests you support or engage in are a potential concern, then your best bet is to remove that item.
At the very least, you should change your passwords, and more importantly, you should not share any of the new passwords with your ex, your friends, or any other person going forward. If the website has an option to make your profile or information that you’ve added private, then you should change the default display mode from public to private. This does not guarantee that your information is safe, or that it cannot be used against you in court, but it does reduce risk and harm.