March 22, 2013 at 2:11 PM ET
A man in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin failed to pay child support for three years. He was finally busted, this February, because someone tipped off the local district attorney's office about photos of cash and liquor bottles on the man's Facebook profile. This sort of scenario shouldn't be surprising anymore. Lawyers often use Facebook as a weapon in legal battles — and increasingly in those involving child support.
"A lot of times Facebook can provide photographs, it can provide even discussions between individuals about issues related to finances or other things that reflect — that could have the ability to reflect — a lifestyle that may not have been presented by the individual initially," Milwaukee County Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern explained to NBC News.
"Pshaw! My Facebook privacy settings are cranked up to eleven, so I can't be busted," someone out there must be thinking. Well, bad news for you, buddy: A court order defeats any privacy settings you might have taken advantage of and Facebook cooperates with legal authorities as necessary.
Court orders are typically sought out after a complaint hits the district attorney's office and there's an indication that an individual has "more financial means than initially presented."
Lovern confirmed to us that a court order was issued to access information on the Facebook account of 23-year-old Christopher Robinson for such reasons, but he could not elaborate on the specific case any further as it is still pending. ABC News' Alexa Valiente does note that a complaint filed with the Wisconsin Circuit Court shows that Robinson failed to make the required $150-per-month child support payments to support his three-year-old child.
"We work with law enforcement to the extent required by law, and as needed to keep the site and those who use it safe," a Facebook spokesperson told NBC News. "Facebook devotes significant resources evaluating requests for user information, and adheres to the letter of these laws when responding to requests for information."
"As you know … people will post all sorts of revealing information about themselves," Lovern said. "[This information] gives glimpses into the lives they are leading."
Lovern listed off the red-flag type of photos that may signal additional financial resources: Shots of property, people with large amounts of cash, and costly possessions. "Discussion about purchasing costly items" in the comments of posts may also raise concerns, he says.
Child support battles aren't the only instance in which Facebook is used, of course. "It can certainly be a tool used for gathering information about people in the context of other types of cases," Lovern explains. "But this has been an area where we've had a fair amount of success."
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