May 25, 2017 Practice Points

How to Obtain a Copy of a Client’s Complete Facebook History

By Valerie E. Anias

Given modern technology and the ease with which we can find, locate, and communicate with millions of people with the touch of a finger or the click of a mouse, we must also be aware of the means and methods in which we can obtain that very same information. Much of this information could be the source of a divorce, child custody dispute, a protective order, and many more related actions. Per Facebook’s newsroom, the social media giant calculated that it had 1.18 billion daily active users and 1.66 billion mobile active users as of September 2016. According to a 2010 survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Facebook makes up 66 percent of primary source divorce evidence.

Most of the readers of this article likely have a Facebook page. They have friends that post loving photos of their children, cute “#TBT” pictures with their spouses, or snapshots of a recent meal. We also have those friends that post about their exes, the lack of child support, their ex’s new significant others, and other sensitive and emotionally fraught information. There’s a wealth of information that attorneys can use to help build motive or reputation, and such information creates the perfect recipe for cross-examination questions. 

Practically speaking, we may all request through discovery that the opposing party produce every Facebook post, message thread, or photo, but more likely than not there will be an objection and/or a convenient assertion that the information no longer exists. The key is that nothing deleted from the Internet is forever gone.

 Facebook has a useful, albeit quietly and infrequently discussed tool that allows its users to download a zip file of all their Facebook data—deleted or not. To download a complete Facebook history file, follow these steps:

  1. Log into your Facebook account and select “Settings” in the drop-down arrow menu on the top right-hand corner of the Facebook site.
  2. Under “General Account Settings,” click the highlighted text that states “Download a Copy” of your Facebook data.
  3. Then click the “Start My Archive,” which will result in Facebook sending you an email with all your archived information in the form of a zip file.

In a world largely based on the Internet, it’s important for lawyers to know the tools available to them. With increased online dating, websites widely known to encourage adultery, and the significant use of social media, attorneys need to learn how to access this information to effectively represent their clients. When dealing with a case involving clients who use Facebook, take advantage of this easy way to collect historical data.

Valerie E. Anias is an associate with Byrd & Byrd in Bowie, Maryland.


Copyright © 2017, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).