Erasing Social Media

Halt and Catch Fire show poster

Halt and Catch Fire is the best TV show of the last four years that you probably haven’t seen.  Critically acclaimed, but on AMC on Saturday nights, nowhere near The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad reruns. Halt and Catch Fire is the story of the beginnings of the age of personal computers and the internet. It’s a show where you think you may know what’s coming, but it seldom happens the way you think it will. Which is part of its brilliance.

It seems like the internet has been around forever, and God knows what we would do without it, but, of course, that’s far from the truth. The internet existed long before we could dial into AOL and grit our teeth through the buzz, static, ringing, and white noise until connected.

The internet has been around since the early ’60’s. It was primarily for government (especially the Department of Defense) and educational purposes. The first computer hackers discovered the ‘net’ while the first personal computer entrepreneurs recognized (in some form, they would all be amazed if dropped down from 1985 to today) its potential.

So, a couple of characters in Halt and Catch Fire try to get at the net, legally and through subterfuge. One just hacks his way into the DOD ‘site’. He is a brilliant coder, he gets in, does what he needs to do, erases his hard drives, does a few more things, and is pretty pleased with himself that he pulled it off.

He is surprised, then, when the FBI comes to his door, but he handles it with the aplomb of a guy who knows there’s not a shred of evidence anywhere. A guy about his age (young) walks to his computer, plugs in a black box, and goes to work.

Our guy wants to know what’s going on. The man at the computer explains that a few months ago he was just like him, since the FBI caught him, he hacks for them. Then he explains the black box, simply, with “It will find everything … because nothing you do can really erase anything. Ever.”

That was true at the dawn of the internet (ask the kid from War Games) and it’s true today. In spades. As president Trump found out when he ‘erased’ his tweets showing support for the failed candidacy of Luther Strange. There is just no such thing, in the age of screen saves and advanced algorithms, everything posted online is basically eternal.

The only safe assumption to make on social media is that anything you post will always be there. I think most people know this. Every lawyer I know who does any type of litigation whatsoever certainly knows this.

So, here’s the thing – if you think you might become involved in a family law matter, if you’re in the midst of a family law matter, if you’ve just finished a family law matter, understand that anything you post on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and almost any other platform you can think of, can be found and can be used by people not disposed to be kind to you.

A woman in California recently had a large emotional pain and suffering award cut in half because the defense found a bunch of Facebook posts where she talked about how happy she was; a father in the Midwest lost shared custody because he liked some posts in favor of marijuana; the list grows longer every day.

Social media is great like a lot of things are great. Like a lot of things that are great, too much or indiscriminate use can lead to real problems. In a perfect world our clients would go off social media while their cases are pending. We recognize this is not a perfect world and our clients want to continue to be connected to the world and their on-line support groups. We just ask that’s it done wisely.