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Forms of infidelity, part 1: Can social-media use be a cause of divorce?

Modern divorce laws have moved away from the need to find evidence of unfaithfulness. But that evolution of the law doesn't necessarily stop attempts to assign blame for a breakup.

Is it true, for example, that excessive social media use can be a causal factor for divorce?

To be sure, there is a common perception that Facebook provides fertile ground for cultivating relationships outside of marriage that could lead to infidelity. Critics of social media use have also questioned whether too much time online can undercut relationships with people close at hand - particularly spouses.

In this two-part post, we will discuss whether there is evidence that goes beyond the anecdotal for such speculations. We will also explore an often-overlooked form of infidelity: financial infidelity.

It's true that a survey conducted by a graduate student in journalism at the University of Missouri concluded that excessive Twitter use could harm a marriage. The same student put out a similar conclusion about Facebook last year.

The methodology of that survey, however, left much to be desired. Participants were not selected in any systematic way. They were selected, rather, simply because they heard about the survey through the grad student's Twitter feed or the Huffington Post's feed.

As a result, the survey was really not in a position to compare the potential impact on divorce rates of Twitter users versus non-Twitter users.

To be sure, there are other surveys suggesting that social-media evidence has become more and more important in divorce proceedings. But this scarcely means that social-media platforms themselves are causing marital breakdowns.

Indeed, there is evidence from the respected Pew Research group suggesting that overall the Internet has had a positive effect on many relationships.

In short, it is much too simplistic to portray social-media platforms as invitations to infidelity.

In our next post, we will discuss another aspect of infidelity: financial infidelity, not only in the sense of outright hiding assets from a spouse, but also through lack of truthfulness about money.

Source: Slate, "Such Tweet Sorrow, "Amanda Hess, April 8, 2014

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