If You Want to Keep It Hidden, Don't Text or Post it Online, Experts Say

Is text messaging the new lipstick on the collar?

December 9, 2009, 6:32 PM

Dec. 10, 2009— -- Tiger Woods. Sen. John Ensign. Kwame Kilpatrick. All were well-respected public figures at the top of their game who were disgraced in part because allegations of misconduct came to light through text messages.

Woods, who is married with two young children, reputedly sent hundreds of racy texts to his reported mistresses.

Kilpatrick, who was the mayor of Detroit and a rising political star, lied under oath about having an affair with his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. Both were married at the time, and both were later convicted of felony charges, including perjury and misconduct, some of which stemmed from attempts to cover up thousands of text messages they had sent to each other.

They both ended up serving prison time.

Ensign acknowledged having an extramarital affair with a staff member. The relationship was discovered when the staffer's husband saw an incriminating text message.

But public figures aren't the only ones who stand to lose. In a growing phenomenon, more and more everyday Americans are discovering their partners' transgressions through text messages and e-mails.

"Texting is the new lipstick on the collar," said Parry Aftab, a privacy and Internet safety lawyer told "Good Morning America." "People don't think when they're having an affair, they don't think when they're leaving a trail of cyber bread crumbs behind them that their spouse may see. They'll log on, they'll take pictures, they'll text, thinking somehow, because it's on their cell phone, nobody will see it."

That kind of thinking gets people in trouble, and not just in their relationships. Technology that's designed to help people communicate in new ways -- e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and so many other social networking media -- is also getting people fired and ruining reputations.

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One Delta Airlines flight attendant was fired for an Internet posting her boss didn't like.

A Canadian woman who was on long-term sick leave said her employer's insurance company stopped paying her benefits after it discovered photos in which she seemed to having fun. She had posted the pictures on Facebook.

For the past year, Nathalie Blanchard has been on leave from her job at IBM's Bromont, Quebec, office. After a doctor diagnosed her with major depression, she started receiving monthly sick-leave benefits from Canada's Manulife Financial Insurance.

But this fall, the checks stopped coming. When Blanchard called Manulife to find out why, she said she was told it was because the Facebook pictures indicated she was no longer depressed and ready to return to work.

"It's not because I'm having fun three hours, one time a week some weeks that I'm in good shape," Blanchard, who lives in Granby, Quebec, told ABCNews.com in an e-mail. "Nobody knows how I feel before and after the event."

In 2002, Heather Armstrong was fired from her job at a software company because she posted unflattering work information on her personal blog. Her bosses were never named in the postings.

"What I was doing was completely benign," she said. "I never, you know, mentioned any trade secrets. I never mentioned the company. And so, I was really shocked when this had happened, because I didn't think that this could be a reason."

Experts say the best thing to do to protect your privacy is not to write or post anything that you might regret later.

The technology you use to communicate with others can come back to haunt you, Aftab noted.

"You do it when you're bored, you do it when you've got nothing else to do, you're doing it because you've thought about something and there's nothing in between the 'Gee, should I?' and doing it, other than the click of a key," she said. "We need to realize that if you're doing it in the digital world, there is a digital footprint."

In addition to employers and insurers, text messages are also being used by lawyers across the country as ammunition in divorce cases.

Mitchell Karpf, a family law specialist who is chariman of the American Bar Association, says text messages can make or break a divorce case.

"What happens, typically, is that one spouse denies a certain conduct that he or she may be engaging in and instead of engaging in a 'he said, she said,' what happens is there's concrete evidence," he said. "It's right there in black and white what has transpired, and there's no going back from that."

ABC News' Ki Mae Heussner contributed to this story.

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