Stacy D. Phillips ●
Did you hear the recent buzz caused by the leaked video of Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin dancing at a party? While her actions have absolutely nothing to do with her ability to lead her country, the court of public opinion weighed in heavily—splitting her constituency between those who called for her resignation and those who supported her progressive persona.
This is not unlike many situations that I have encountered in my divorce and family law career. While an individual may have every right to engage in certain activities—and to share such on their social media and other communication channels—the “court of public opinion,” and the actual court, can be a harsh judge and can cause ripple effects that undermine their end goals.
In my book, Divorce: It’s All About Control. How to Win the Emotional, Psychological and Legal Wars, I emphasize that the person with the control—which can come in many forms, including self-control—wields the power. It is no different in regard to control over your online or social media reputation.
Take, for example, a recent child support matter I have been working on. The mother, my client, had every right to post adorable pictures of her baby on her social media profile. However, an innocent act such as this, when twisted by the adversarial celebrity father and his counsel, could come back to hurt the mother. And, in the case of high-profile individuals, it could also fuel a media storm, fanning public opinion and potentially angering judges.
Here is my advice for gaining control of your online or social media reputation, especially during a legal battle:
- Take a hiatus from social media. It will still be there when you emerge—hopefully victorious—from your legal process.
- Keep a low profile. If you can’t take a break cold turkey, keep your social media activity to a minimum, such as only viewing activity.
- Think twice before you post to your social media profiles. Little things, like your post’s location, day, or time, or things in the background of photos, could be taken out of context and potentially used against you. Remember, what is posted online remains accessible forever.
- Don’t put yourself in a situation that may result in unwanted exposure. You’ll need to think through every move and avoid situations that might put you in a compromising position. I’ll repeat: What is posted online remains accessible forever.
- Never post negative information about your adversary. It will only stir the pot and potentially start a bigger battle. Judges do not look kindly on this behavior—it is a reflection on your character. And in California, “interfering with emotional calm” has the potential to be considered domestic violence!
Your goal is to have your online and social media reputation support your claims to the court—that you are a model citizen. I have seen people get nailed in litigation when their online and social media presence contradicted their character as portrayed to the court.
There is, of course, not much you can do to backtrack on past social media activity. But you can and should control your activity going forward. I often advise my clients not to post anything to social media that they would not want plastered on a billboard along a heavily traveled road or freeway. While a bit outlandish analogy, it is a good mental exercise for not just social media posts but for spoken words and actions as well.