The number of divorces occurring because of Facebook and other social networking sites has been on the rise since these sites have become increasingly popular, research claims. These sites are being utilized more and more by unhappy individuals to seek out and have an affair and cheat on their partner.
Facebook is being cited in almost one in five of online divorce petitions, lawyers have claimed.
People will post just about anything on social networking sites. And the information can be used against them. David Randall and Victoria Richards report.
In the judicial backwater of a New Jersey federal court, a case is being heard that nominally affects two families but should also make millions of Britons think twice about something they do every day: put highly personal information on Facebook, MySpace or Bebo.
The social networking site, which connects old friends and allows users to make new ones online, is being blamed for an increasing number of marital breakdowns.
Divorce lawyers claim the explosion in the popularity of websites such as Facebook and Bebo is tempting to people to cheat on their partners. Suspicious spouses have also used the websites to find evidence of flirting and even affairs which have led to divorce.
One law firm, which specialises in divorce, claimed almost one in five petitions they processed cited Facebook.
Mark Keenan, Managing Director of Divorce-Online said: “I had heard from my staff that there were a lot of people saying they had found out things about their partners on Facebook and I decided to see how prevalent it was I was really surprised to see 20 per cent of all the petitions containing references to Facebook.
“The most common reason seemed to be people having inappropriate sexual chats with people they were not supposed to.”
An American insurance company, in defending its refusal to pay out a claim, is seeking to call in evidence personal online postings, including the contents of any MySpace or Facebook pages the litigants may have, to see if their eating disorders might have “emotional causes”. And the case is far from a lone one. Suddenly, those saucy pictures and intimate confessions on social networking sites can be taken down and used in evidence against you in ways never dreamed of.
Flirty emails and messages found on Facebook pages are increasingly being cited as evidence of unreasonable behaviour. Computer firms have even cashed in by developing software allowing suspicious spouses to electronically spy on someone’s online activities.
One 35-year-old woman even discovered her husband was divorcing her via Facebook. Conference organiser Emma Brady was distraught to read that her marriage was over when he updated his status on the site to read: “Neil Brady has ended his marriage to Emma Brady.”
Last year a 28-year-old woman ended her marriage after discovering her husband had been having a virtual affair with someone in cyberspace he had never met. Amy Taylor 28, split from David Pollard after discovering he was sleeping with an escort in the game Second Life, a virtual world where people reinvent themselves.
Around 14 million Britons are believed to regularly use social networking sites to communicate with old friends or make new ones. The popularity of the Friends Reunited website several years ago was also blamed for a surge in divorces as bored husbands and wives used it to contact old flames and first loves.
The UK’s divorce rate has fallen in recent years, but two in five marriages are still failing according the latest statistics. Mr Keenan believes that the general divorce rate will rocket in 2010 with the recession taking the blame.
In the US, a sex assault victim seeking compensation faces the prospect of her MySpace and Facebook pages being produced in court. In Texas, a driver whose car was involved in a fatal accident found his MySpace postings (“I’m not an alcoholic, I’m a drunkaholic”) part of the prosecution’s case.
From Los Angeles to Lowestoft, thousands of social network site users have lost their jobs – or failed to clinch new ones – because of their pages’ contents. Police, colleges and schools are monitoring MySpace and Facebook pages for what they deem to be “inappropriate” content. Online security holes and users’ naivety are combining to cause privacy breaches and identity thefts. And what all this, and more, adds up to is this: online social networking can seriously damage your life.