April 29, 2013
Social Media Over-Sharing Can Land You In Cuffs
Pictures, posts, and videos of your kids, the awesome meal you made, or the new outfit you bought are all good and fine, but don’t get carried away. Posting criminal activity on blogs and social networking sites can get you locked up in a hurry.
Let me start by informing those of you who don’t know already; everything online is forever. It’s referred to as your “digital footprint.”
Webopedia explains, “On the Internet a digital footprint is the word used to describe the trail, traces or ‘footprints’ that people leave online. This is information transmitted online, such as forum registration, e-mails and attachments, uploading videos or digital images and any other form of transmission of information — all of which leaves traces of personal information about yourself available to others online.”
Whether it’s a post, tweet, email, or blog, it doesn’t matter if you’ve deleted it or not. It remains in the deepest darkest corners of some server somewhere, and it’s exploitable evidence in court.
CNN Tech highlights several recent examples of online activities being used to prosecute. I’ll summarize a couple for you:
Kapa’a, Hawaii man, Richard Godbehere posted a clip in February entitled “Let’s Go Driving, Drinking!”
In the video, while cruising down the road and cracking open a beer, this numbskull says to the camera, “We all know drinking and driving is against the law. You’re not supposed to do that. But they didn’t say anything about driving and then drinking. You just have to be learned enough to understand the symbols of drunkenness.”
He was shocked when police showed up at his door after catching wind of it, and claimed it was all a big joke, that “There was no beer in that bottle.”
Tell it to the judge, genius.
More seriously, in Steubenville, Ohio, two football players were found guilty last month of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl; the evidence for the prosecution was on Instagram.
“Her family and law enforcement learned of the assault after cell phone pictures and videos, taken by partygoers, popped up on Facebook and other sites. One key piece of evidence was an Instagram photo of the two boys carrying the girl out of a house.”
The problem is less that people share their crimes, and more that they’re criminals, but the fact remains: good criminals don’t get caught. While I’m not justifying any of the actions above, let’s be honest here; if you did something you knew was illegal, why in the world would you share it with millions of people?
It’s just stupid.
Anyhow, an expert clarified for CNN that “anything posted online is material the government can use as evidence to arrest and charge a person.”
Bradley Shear, a Washington-area lawyer specializing in social media law, explains, “In criminal cases, almost all evidence is discoverable and police can obtain the evidence,” He continued, “It’s just a matter of what hoops they have to jump through.”
Often times, there aren’t any hoops though. All it takes is a few hours of clicking around, and a detective can find just about any dirt they’re looking for if you’re actually guilty of a crime.
While I’ve never used it, and I don’t know how effective it is, there’s even online investigation software that takes some of the guesswork out. Twitter Investigator is one such piece of software.
To that end, employers often look you up before hiring you. If you’re an educated, qualified, hard-working individual, but you’ve got nothing but pictures of you playing beer pong plastered all over your favorite social network, chances are that they’ll seek another individual for the position. Posting about being a criminal probably won’t bode well either.
Evidence and criminal law professor, Susan Rozelle, at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Florida says, “It’s like that old saying, don’t put anything on your Facebook page you wouldn’t tell your mother, or the local police department.”
The moral of the story isn’t not to post criminal activities online; instead, it’s don’t be a criminal. In the off chance that you neglect my words of wisdom, and you are a criminal, have some common sense, and stop screaming about it online.
Image Credit: Photos.com