Careless Whispers: Divorce and Social Media a Toxic Mix

More and more, we head to social media to announce important milestones such as the birth of a child or a new job –– and sometimes to share the more mundane moments, such as the pasta we made for dinner last night.

Canadians spend almost two hours every day on social media, catching up on news, connecting with friends and family or simply as a distraction from the misery of a global pandemic. But Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and others have also become popular stomping grounds for venting frustrations, throwing shade and launching digital wars of words with anyone who doesn’t share our opinions.

Careless Whispers: Divorce and Social Media a Toxic Mix

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How much is too much?

I’m a huge fan of social media and I’m active on several platforms as a way of connecting with people and serving them helpful content as they navigate divorce. But I’m mindful of how much personal information I share; I’m a firm believer that our private lives are precisely that.

For people going through a divorce, social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can provide a comfort zone where you can share the news about your breakup, online dating expert Julia Spira tells the Toronto Star.

“By sharing the announcement of your divorce, you have the opportunity to show both your vulnerable and brave sides, while curating the next chapter of your life,” Spira says.

On the other hand, it’s the wrong place to broadcast the nitty gritty details of your split, cautions Katherine Woodward Thomas, author of the book Conscious Uncoupling.

“If you start to air the dirty laundry, it’s not good for the kids or for you or your partner. If someone had an affair, it needs to stay between the three people and/or their therapist. You don’t want to spread it to the community because people will instinctively want to take sides,” Woodward Thomas says in an interview with the Toronto Star.

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Going through a divorce can feel very isolating and lonely, especially in the midst of a global pandemic where our ability to socialize is restricted. I always caution clients against sounding off about their soon-to-be ex on social media, however tempting it might be as a way of validating their feelings or propping up a bruised ego.

We’re all guilty of oversharing from time to time, but how do you know if you’re crossing the line into unhealthy behaviour?

Validation and vulnerability porn

I understand the urge to seek positive affirmation at a time when you’re feeling emotionally low, but it’s important to think strategically and not let emotion drive your decisions.

According to psychotherapist Jennifer Musselman, “Vulnerability porn on social media is linked to vulnerability addiction, in which one engages in the state of being exposed emotionally or psychologically for the reward validation or attention from others.”

In the moment, it can feel cathartic to blast a spouse; but once it’s out there, you can’t take it back. You also need to think about who else might be affected –– your children, for example –– and how it could be used against you in court. My general rule of thumb is don’t share anything that you wouldn’t want read aloud in a courtroom.

Posts as evidence in family court

When it comes to social media during divorce, less is more and here’s why: Anything you post can be used as evidence in a family law proceeding. For example, financial support obligations can be established through pictures demonstrating the extravagant lifestyle of a spouse. Parenting time determinations can be decided with posts that indicate abusive behaviour or substance abuse.

As recent court cases illustrate, Facebook and Instagram posts are often introduced in legal proceedings. The caveat is that this evidence must be properly authenticated, which usually requires analysis by a digital forensics expert.

In a 2018 case in British Columbia, Instagram posts were used to demonstrate a woman’s lavish lifestyle despite her claim of economic hardship. The same year in an Ontario court, a father tried to skirt his child support obligations by claiming financial challenges. But the judge was unconvinced after the court was shown his Instagram posts depicting a Rolex watch, motorcycle and a posh condo.

Tips for social self-control

As a family law lawyer, I’ve witnessed some colossal social missteps by my own clients and the opposing side. If you don’t think you can resist the urge, it’s best to temporarily deactivate your account. That’s also the best option if your spouse or their family and friends are using social media as a way to threaten or harass you.

If you’re intent on remaining active on social media while your divorce is ongoing, the following tips can help you stay inside the guard rails:

  • Change your passwords for all digital assets, including social media accounts. Many couples share accounts or have access to each other’s passwords, so make sure you do a digital hygiene cleanse before or as soon as you separate
  • Don’t talk about your divorce on social media
  • Resist the impulse to blast your spouse or rehash the events that led to the breakup
  • If you need to vent, talk to a friend, family member or therapist who can help you process negative emotions
  • Wait until after your divorce is final to change your status from married to single

Do you have a story you’d like to share about social media and divorce or a topic you would like me to explore in a future post? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

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