Justin Dowd, Accredited Family Law Specialist, Watts McCray
Social networking sites, like Facebook have made it easier to stay in touch – even with those you might be looking to avoid. For the second time in Australia, official legal documents were served via the popular social networking site when other traditional methods were unsuccessful.
When an Adelaide woman was denied child support because she lacked proof of paternity, her solicitor repeatedly tried to contact a ‘Mr. Howard’ to get him to do a paternity test. Returned and undelivered letters elicited no reply, and when federal magistrate Stewart Brown was informed that ‘Mr. Howard’ was a regular Facebook user, he ordered the documents to be delivered to his account’s private Inbox. Gotcha!
‘Mr. Howard’ promptly closed down his Facebook and MySpace account, which was proof enough for Mr. Brown to award the mother a child support assessment, on the grounds that his refusal to take the test could only mean that Mr. Howard is the child’s father.
It’s a court order that reflects the growing appreciation of social media to act as a useful communication channel between a wide and diverse group of people. It also shows, however, the growing difficulty of anonymity in the online and networked world and serves as a good reminder that the Internet and sites such as Facebook do not safeguard your privacy.
The Sydney Morning Herald quoted the federal magistrate Stewart Brown as saying that although the case was unusual, it is also ‘demonstrative of social movements and the currency of the times’.
If this case is indeed a sign of the times, it seems that online contact between witnesses, court subjects or anyone involved in the legal process could be more frequently given the ‘official’ stamp.
In line with the recent Facebook privacy complications, it will be interesting to see whether it’s possible for anyone on Facebook to keep a low profile when it comes to legal – particularly family and children’s law related – cases and whether social networks will be increasingly called on to assist in the legal process.
With more and more people interacting and involved in online communities, does this case set the first of many precedents of official legal communication via social networking sites?
If you’re involved in a legal case, here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your use of social networks –
- Unless you have activated privacy settings, most Facebook profiles and other social network information is public, meaning that everyone on the internet can see your information.
- Be aware of what you communicate online, whether that be on Facebook wall posts, Twitter tweets or e-mails, as they may be used in any legal case.
Don’t refer to any legal proceedings or any information that may be used to influence the outcome of your case.