What is it about Facebook that makes it such a social media minefield for divorce? Is it the ability to connect with just about anyone? Facebook isn’t a dating site like Tinder, yet anyone with the impulse to cheat on their spouse can treat it like one. And there’s the problem of trust. If your spouse is suspicious, they’re likely to check your Facebook. If you’re not cheating, you’ll be mad they looked and didn’t trust you. If you are, the evidence is there in plain view.
Have you been in a divorce in which Facebook played a role, or are you going through the wringer right now?
You’re not alone. “I would say 30 to 40 percent of [divorce] cases have some sort of Facebook involvement,” says attorney Howard Iken. His estimate is very close to that of Lake Legal, a UK law firm that conducted a study on the issue and found that 30 percent of divorces involve Facebook. In cases where Facebook is involved, records from the social network inevitably become evidence in court.
Facebook itself is facing more problems as America’s honeymoon phase with the network comes to an end. It’s enough to make some of us divorce ourselves from Facebook.
No matter what stage you’re at in your divorce, there are some important things to keep in mind about Facebook and its somewhat complicated relationship with its users. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Facebook Is Addictive
To analyze what’s going on with Facebook and its contributions to relationship problems, it helps to understand what makes people want to use the social network so much in the first place. The answer is simple: it’s addictive. Co-founder Sean Parker says Facebook uses a “social-validation feedback loop.” In other words, you want to post things that people like, and the more people like what you post, the more you want to post. According to Parker, “It literally changes your relationship with society.”
It can change your relationship with your partner, too. Many Facebook affairs may begin because you or your partner started getting social validation from someone who made themselves emotionally available through news feed posts and direct messages.
Then there’s the matter of that little red dot. Notifications and the red dot that comes with them tell you to check direct messages and responses to status updates. Psychology Today points out that the red dots contribute to obsession and addiction. The red dot stands for urgency. This is part of the feedback loop that makes the network so addictive.
It creates a potential for flirtation with someone else even when you’re in the room with your wife or husband. Responding to the red dot that begs for your attention takes you out of the moment you’re supposed to be sharing with your partner, thereby driving a wedge between you and your relationship.
2. Facebook Posts Are Admissible As Evidence in Divorce Court
When you post on Facebook, even if you specify that you only want to share a post with friends, you’re posting information that can be made available to the public. That’s a big reason why Facebook is a player in 30 percent of divorce proceedings. “The prohibition against using illegally obtained evidence applies primarily, essentially solely, to law enforcement,” says Judge Michael Corriero, cohost of the TV show “Hot Bench.” “It doesn’t apply to another civilian. If you were foolish enough to let other people know your criminality, well that’s too bad.”
3. Facebook’s Algorithm Creates Social “Bubbles”
Social bubbles are one reason why extra-marital affairs start so often on Facebook. They’re called “filter bubbles” and they’re part of what makes the network addictive. The network’s algorithm works to show you what you want to see. Of course you play a role in this by liking, commenting on, and sharing posts from people whose opinions align with yours. By so doing, you’re working with the algorithm to create a bubble in which only posts from certain people appear at the top of your news feed.
This creates a breeding ground rife for cheating – it’s like you’re only going to one bar where you see the same people all the time. As you continue to like someone’s posts, you encourage Facebook to keep showing you their posts. Each you time you open the app, you’re reminded of that person — a state of affairs that can translate into an extra-marital affair.
4. Facebook Is Ethically Compromised
The social network is embroiled in a scandal that has many questioning just how ethical its data-gathering and sharing practices are. The Guardian reports that Cambridge University’s ethics panel found Facebook’s data practices unethical. One panel member said that Facebook “creates the appearance of a cosy and confidential peer group environment, as a means of gulling users into disclosing private information that they then sell to advertisers, but this doesn’t make it right to an ethical researcher to follow their lead.”
Once Facebook sells that data to advertisers, it could fall into the hands of cyber criminals. About 73% of Americans have been victims of cybercrime. Companies don’t necessarily protect your data as they’re using it to advertise to you. Many of them try their best, but oftentimes that’s not good enough.
If someone is having an affair on Facebook, that information is data a company could use to inform ads. That’s a scary and strange thing. What’s more, someone could pursue an affair with an individual who doesn’t exist, because fake profiles are a real problem on Facebook.
Facebook itself may not be the problem more so than human nature. But it turns out the social network easily caters to our darker side. The only thing we can do is learn. In future relationships, it might be best to forget Facebook, or at the very least, limit your usage.
Daniel Matthews is a 35 year-old freelance writer from Boise, ID who specializes in tech, business, and culture. You can find him on Twitter.