Attorneys often have a complicated relationship with social media.
Lawyers understand that social media is intricately involved in nearly every aspect of life. People share family moments, professionals share career details, and businesses reach out to clients and prospects. In fact, it is almost inconceivable to no longer use social media. That being said, social media platforms can often cause a real problem for those going through legal processes, including a bankruptcy filing.
You may think that posting photos of your family excursions, your favorite new shoe purchase, or even your new hairstyle is harmless. But unfortunately, these seemingly benign photos may cause more trouble than you realize. Attorneys often tell those going through a divorce or a personal injury claim to abstain from social media posts that their adversary may use against them. Still, you may not consider bankruptcy in that same category.
However, just as in other legal situations, you may want to consider what you post publicly online during bankruptcy carefully. While your creditors may be less likely than an angry ex-spouse or rival insurance adjustor to be looking for anything to use against you – you can’t be sure of what they may do.
When Social Media Posts Could Harm You
In Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings, your creditors will be notified of your plans to file bankruptcy, as an automatic stay of collections will be put in place. There are some cases in which creditors are allowed to object to the court regarding this stay.
At a later point in the process, you will meet with your creditors to discuss your proposed repayment plan. At this time, creditors are allowed to ask you questions or oppose the proposed plan. At the confirmation hearing, they will present their objections to the court.
Because your creditors do not know you, they have no background story on your Facebook or Instagram posts. If they want to contest the automatic stay or file an opposition to your payment plan, they may turn to social media to get “proof” that you are not in the financial hardship you claim.
For instance, your parents may take you and your spouse out for dinner for your anniversary. The restaurant is 5-star, and you excitedly post your lobster and steak meal, your champagne, and your extravagant dessert. Your creditors only see a costly meal being enjoyed by you, and they don’t necessarily know that you didn’t spend the money.
There are many different ways that your innocent posts could be misconstrued if a creditor were looking for reasons to contest your filing. Of course, anyone filing bankruptcy under false pretense would be foolish to advertise their deception online. But for the vast majority of people who are honestly looking for a solution to their financial struggle, they should be cognizant that an innocent photo may come back to haunt them.
You simply don’t know who is watching or how they will interpret your posts.
So if you fly to Hawaii for a business meeting that your company paid for, or your car dealer gives you a luxury loaner while they fix your car – keep the photos to yourself.
Bankruptcy is a powerful option for individuals and businesses to achieve financial relief. However, it can be quite complex. Don’t go it alone or risk making a small mistake that could have a significant impact – call an experienced bankruptcy attorney to walk with you through the process.
Richard V. Ellis is a bankruptcy attorney based in Sarasota.