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According to the Daily Mail:

Facebook is becoming a major factor in marriage breakdowns and is increasingly being used as a source of evidence in divorce cases, according to lawyers.

The social networking site was cited as a reason for a third of divorces last year in which unreasonable behaviour was a factor, according to law firm Divorce-Online.

Is this piece of statistics true?

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    "Is the Daily Mail correct?" – Mark K Cowan Mar 30 '17 at 23:08
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The Daily Mail, unsurprisingly, has provided a misleading 'clickbait' title for the article. The title doesn't match up with what details they actually say in the article (and which you cited) - your quote doesn't claim Facebook is involved in a third of UK divorces, it claims it is involved in a third of last year divorces that cited unreasonable behavior as a factor. Possibly this claim also qualifies this is about divorces where the sourced law firm was directly involved, but that's not a clear implication.

According to this article at The Guardian, which cites as its source the Grant Thornton's 2011 matrimonial survey in the UK, unreasonable behavior was a reason in 17% of (then) recent UK divorces. Looking at the report itself, these percentages come from a survey question in which a lawyer would select three most common reasons for divorce.

This study seems to be from the same rough time-frame the Daily Mail article has been published, it is therefore very likely that a much more accurate title would be 6% of recent UK divorces citing Facebook as a factor.


I have looked into this more, results follow:

Noting that the linked Daily Mail article is dated Dec 2011 as of last edit, I've searched articles by DivorceOnline on their blog authored solely by the Divorce Online spokesperson, Mark Keenan. They have published an article in Feb 2012 saying

A recent poll indicates that a third of all English divorces in 2011 cited Facebook as a contributing factor, according to an article by Forbes.com. The 5,000 people polled listed a number of ways that Facebook activity played a part in their divorce. Reasons included sharing details of a spouse’s behavior, making negative remarks about a spouse and communicating inappropriately with someone of the opposite sex.

The article does not link to this poll. I have looked for it in Forbes.com archives, having found nothing (not claiming it doesn't exist, only having been unable to find it). Their next two articles, unrelated to the topic at hand, reference Daily Mail articles as sources and they do provide direct links to these articles.

Going back in the articles, the next mention of Facebook or social media and their part in divorces is the Sep 2010 blurb for an article on a different website, a long one, discussing social media and their influence in the context of family law and surrounding topics from many different angles. Under the heading Facebook and divorce, the article says:

There is now being coined the concept of a 'Facebook divorce' whereby one becomes reconnected to a distant, possibly adolescent, and therefore impossibly deeply felt affaire de coeur, idealistically perceived through the telescope of time, ultimately resulting in the present spouse being ditched.

The impact of Facebook on divorce has been well chronicled in the media (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/6857918/Facebook-fuelling-divorce-research-claims.html) with claims that one in five petitions now contain reference to Facebook in some way.

20% is less than a third of all, but more than a 6% or even 17% of all! We may be on to something here, an older cited statistic perhaps? Continuing to the Dec 2009 Telegraph article, linked in the quote, we find this:

One law firm, which specialises in divorce, claimed almost one in five petitions they processed cited Facebook.

Mark Keenan, Managing Director of Divorce-Online said: "I had heard from my staff that there were a lot of people saying they had found out things about their partners on Facebook and I decided to see how prevalent it was I was really surprised to see 20 per cent of all the petitions containing references to Facebook. The most common reason seemed to be people having inappropriate sexual chats with people they were not supposed to."

Going back to the Divorce Online archives, I went all the way to the beginning of the blog in Mar 2009. No other articles even mentioned this research or any similar research. The first blog post does say that the author has had a personal blog before, but as he doesn't link to it, I'd assume it wasn't very rich on internal research publishing. There is an article containing results of their research in Jul 2009, Middle class adulterers are using Twitter to conduct illicit affairs. By Mark Keenan, however it is merely something to add to the "social networks", not the original Facebook claim.

Seeing the content type of the blog (sensationalist stories, poorly sourced; 'outraged' reports on the low quality and plethora of complaints about their competitors' services, contradictory articles) I'd say this is a circularly referenced claim, most likely made up. On a leaving note, here is an article from Jun 2010, Divorce-Online tweeted by Perez Hilton by Mark Keenan, in its entirety.

Divorce-Online have today been tweeted by none other than the King of Celebrity gossip Perez Hilton.

Perez refers the telegraph article that featured our research showing the word “facebook” appears in 1in 5 of all the petitions we deal with, sparking a debate on the evils of using social networking sites.

Now the big thing is that Perez has 2.5 million followers on his Twitter profile and his tweet about Divorce-Online was in the top ten re -tweets for today.

It just goes to prove that social media marketing does work!

Sure does.


Addendum: Other news articles citing the Telegraph Dec 2009 article seem to also mistake it for a US statistic, eg this one, copying the false attribution from here. This one simply attributed the statistic to the Feb 2012 article at Divorce Online, not to Forbes. Checking the references didn't seem to happen a lot concerning this particular tidbit, many reporting on it were comfortable with just repeating the claim on no factual basis.

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    But the survey itself doesn't even say anything about Facebook? – JonathanReez Mar 29 '17 at 12:15
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    @JonathanReez No, but combining the survey's "17% of divorces involve unreasonable behaviour" and the "according to" from Divorce-Online that in such cases one third cited Facebook, then very roughly, it might be that approximately 6% of all divorce cases cite/involve Facebook. Of course, Facebook may feature in divorces that were for reasons other than unreasonable behaviour, which would increase the 6%, but no one's made a guestimate of that figure. – TripeHound Mar 29 '17 at 13:24
  • I have edited my answer with more information. – user25972 Mar 29 '17 at 17:31
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    For those who aren't from the UK, or have never needed to research it, here divorces are only granted for one of five reasons: (i) adultery, (ii) unreasonable behaviour, (iii) desertion, (iv) separation for 2 years (and both parties agree) (v) separation for 5 years. Once you've picked your grounds, you then throw as much evidence at it as you can, just in case the judge decides that your marriage isn't irreconcilable. gov.uk/divorce/grounds-for-divorce – origimbo Mar 29 '17 at 18:03
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    @origimbo: and since (iii),(iv),(v) are pretty clearcut, that only leaves (ii) unreasonable behaviour as the catchall for everything else when (i) adultery is not the reason. – smci Mar 29 '17 at 21:54
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No, it isn't.

I'm not sure if there is a similar headline-to-story mismatch in the cited article (firewall at work), but for the question, the title does not match the claim.

"a reason for a third of divorces last year in which unreasonable behavior was a factor" <> "one third of all." Most divorces do not fault a partner's behavior as a reason for the divorce. That's a pretty huge qualifier in the statement.

8. Fact proven at divorce

In 2013, of all decrees granted to one partner (rather than joinly to both), 65% were granted to the wife. In over half (54%) of the cases where the divorce was granted to the wife the husband's behaviour was the fact proven (background note 7 has details). Of the divorces granted to the husband, the most common facts proven were the wife's behavior (38%) and 2 years separation with consent (31% of cases). Very few decrees (less than 0.01%) were granted jointly to the husband and wife.

UK Office of National Statistics - Divorces in England and Wales: 2013

So, let's break down those numbers. 54% of 65% (behavior cited in cases granted to the wife) were for behavior in ex-wife-granted divorces, so that amounts to 35.1% of the grand divorce total.

Add to that cases granted to the husband where behavior is cited, 31% of 35%, or 10.85% of the total of all divorces.

Our starting point, of all cases where behavior was a factor, is 45.95% of divorces. Take 1/3 of that (statistic for Facebook being introduced in cases where behavior is a cause), and you have 15.32% of all divorces in the UK having Facebook used to show behavior.... if that quoted claim is true, to start with.

It seems to still be a large number, but not I'm not sure if that's really "involved," which has the connotation of being a cause or factor. If I hire a private detective to follow my spouse, and they bring back photos that prove infidelity, the infidelity is the factor. Is a camera "involved"? I suppose, but the infidelity, itself, has nothing to do with the existence of a camera.

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