Social media has many benefits, enabling us to keep in touch with old and new friends alike, sharing special moments with 'followers', organising events or tracking exercise progress.
However, there is a dark side to the web. Every click, post or search adds to your very own digital footprint, this leaves everyone vulnerable to exploitation. If you're going through a separation, extra care must be taken, but there are steps that can be taken to minimise this risk.
Social media, cybercrime and separation
If you are going through a separation, it is important to be extra vigilant about the way that you live your life online. Posts on social media, WhatsApp messages and text messages can all be recorded, saved and used as 'evidence'. Venting frustrations or emotions in text in the heat of the moment may come back to bite you at a later date.
If a stranger is able to access what should be private information easily, an ex-partner could access the same information, if not more, especially knowing a lot of personal information about you shared during your relationship.
Below are our ten top tips on how best to protect yourself online, especially if you are going through a separation or family-related problems:
- Carry out an online "health check".Review your privacy settings.Make sure your online profile is as private as you want it to be. Consider whether you want your ex-partner to know about any new relationship, or what you are up to now that you have separated. If not, keep it off social media and encourage any new partner to do so too.Close any dormant accounts. Even if you haven't used them for years, they are still out there and available to others to exploit.
- Use different passwords for every online account. It is often the case that couples will both know each other's usual passwords as well as their email addresses, dates of birth, first employer, mother's maiden name and other answers to the usual online security questions;
- Change your passwords frequently. It is important to make sure that you use a 'new' password regularly, and something unique and complex.This can help prevent an ex-partner from being able to access your online accounts;
- Log out of your devices. Especially those that were previously shared with your ex-partner so that your accounts don't automatically log in on any devices your partner has retained. You may have left in a hurry or forgotten about a child's device which may contain shared information or enable access to your information;
- Don't air your dirty laundry in public. Think before you post any photos or statuses online as once these have been shared they can be extremely difficult to remove (especially once they have been seen by a third party/or a screen shot has been taken);
- Carefully review photos.Make sure that there are no publicly accessible historical photos of you that may cause you embarrassment, personally or professionally.If there are, consider taking them down straight away.Be extra-careful about future photos posted and their accessibility and additional information, such as dates, locations and who else has been tagged in those photos.
- Think about the wider impact of your online activity.Be mindful of how any posts/photos you share or comments you make may affect your ex, your children, your friends and family. Think about what information is available online about your children and how far you wish to limit this, and take the appropriate steps to protect them;
- Regularly review your followers. Think carefully about who you are contacting online, how often and the reasons why – is there a better way to communicate with each other, eg face to face?Delete any unknown / inappropriate followers.
- Think twice before clicking "send".It is easy to get carried away in the moment and send a flood of angry messages to your ex online. Leave it an hour, come back to it and ask yourself if it is a message worth sending. This could result in concerns being raised about harassment and inappropriate conduct, and criminal action could be taken against you; and
- Think about what content you interact with online. Encourage your friends and family to be mindful of this too.Often, friends and family can accidentally share information which you may wish to keep private, so beware of "tagging" and "liking" and ask those close to you not to get caught up in online mud-slinging. Discourage them from responding to any comments or posts online which affect you – their engagement will only cause tensions to be further strained.
Looking after yourself and thinking ahead
Take some time to think about your own mental health and wellbeing. You may want to "unfriend" or "unfollow" your ex, so that the temptation isn't there to spy on them and find out what they are up to, or to contact them online in the heat of the moment. Maintaining that connection can make it extremely difficult to move forward.
Be mindful of the wider impact of your online actions. Don't risk causing any damage to any positive, constructive discussions about your separation that may be taking place elsewhere (eg through your solicitor, mediators etc).
Look for the positives
Although the internet has its risks, there are many benefits on offer.
There are a wealth of online resources and tools that can be utilised by you and your ex-partner to try and minimise the negative effects of a separation upon each other, but also, most importantly, your children.
We can help suggest some useful and safe online tools that can help you and your family through your separation.
If you find yourself being the subject of online abuse, or are concerned you are at risk of cybercrime, make sure that you report this to the police and speak to a solicitor.
For more information on how we can help in your circumstances, for further advice and more safeguarding tips, please do call us.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2018. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.