Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has been touring the nation on a speaking tour, recently made an interesting assertion. Among discussions about emerging technology, the environment, and a host of other topics, Zuckerberg also claimed that his site helps expose adulterers, saying women thank him because his popular social media site “has made it harder for [cheating men] to live double lives.”
Does Facebook create temptation?
There are strong indications that social media has led many down the path of infidelity. Data collected in 2015 by the Pacific Northwest family law firm McKinley Irvin showed that 1 in 3 divorces start as online affairs.
“Social media can make cheating easier because people have tools to reach out to those from their past,” says Andrew Selepak, director of the graduate program in social media at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. “A forgotten flame posts a photo, or Facebook suggests becoming friends with ‘someone you may know.’”
Selepak describes Facebook as the “Tinder” of former boyfriends, girlfriends, or hookups. “But,” he adds, “it also makes it easier to get caught. Messages and photos leave a trail—one that can be found for those who don’t know how to cover their tracks.”
Social media in divorce court
Dana Cutler and Keith Cutler of James W. Tippin & Associates are married attorneys and the presiding judges on Couples Court with the Cutlers, a syndicated daytime court show that uses high-tech tactics to tackle relationship disputes involving infidelity. Facebook is one of their main tools.
“Social media has definitely made it easier to get caught cheating,” says Keith. “Invariably, a cheating partner forgets to log out of their account, leaving the door wide open for the already suspicious non-cheating partner to gather all the evidence they need. We see it all the time.”
Justin Lovely, an attorney in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina uses Facebook as a primary source for discovering infidelity. As part of the initial intake for a divorce case, Lovely’s private investigator gathers the client’s social media accounts and obtains as much social media info on the opposing party as possible. “Usually, we find something on Facebook—a specific post, a secret account, or simply a lead. The investigator follows up on the lead to gather evidence of adultery.”
“Gathering information from Facebook is a necessity in a domestic case,” says Lovely, “and, in my opinion, malpractice if the attorney does not actively look.”
Invading social media privacy
Lovely’s firm uses Facebook evidence to reach a settlement and, if further litigation is necessary, subpoenas the information from Facebook. “On the opposing end, we counsel clients to shut down all social media while the divorce is pending so this same tactic cannot be used against us,” says Lovely.
“I am amazed by how many litigants do not understand how digital and social media operate,” says Dana Cutler. People on Facebook mistakenly believe that if their account isn’t linked with their marital partner’s account, they can post pictures and other evidence, mistakenly believing it won’t be exposed. Or, they think they can delete incriminating Facebook posts so the partner never finds out.
“The problem is,” Dana continues, “postings can still be seen through a mutual friend, and digital information is forever. Litigants are always surprised when their virtual lives destroy their actual lives.”