How Can Social Media Affect a Criminal Case?

This picture shows social media apps on a cell phone indicating the different social media outlets law enforcement can use to assist with charging people.

There is no question that social media outlets, like Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat, play a major role in our everyday lives. People use social media to keep up with friends, post pictures and videos, and stay on top of current events. Social media plays such an important role in our lives, that it has become a central player in some of the most recent happenings around the world, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s death and COVID-19. Without a doubt, social media can also be a force for good.

Did you know that social media can be used as a tool by law enforcement to investigate and ultimately bring criminal charges against people? Social media posts and even private messages regularly end up being used in criminal cases as evidence against a defendant. In a later post, I’ll be sure to post how law enforcement can obtain information from social media accounts, but in the meantime, everyone needs to follow the general rule that you should think twice before you post anything. Everything that is posted on social media or even words and phrases searched on your computer are subject to being found by law enforcement and being used against you in a court of law.

Here are a few examples of charges that typically arise from social media:

  1. Cyberstalking – this is one of the most common charges; social media is being used to send unwanted harassing and sometimes frightful messages to others.
  2. Soliciting minors – though less common, these are cases where adults are found to have been talking with minors about sex or making plans to meet up for sex. One of the major problems that we see, from the State’s perspective, is that even though there are communications, it is not unusual to find that a defendant does not even know the other person is a minor.
  3. Parole violations – these types of situations are on the rise. When a person is on parole or probation, they have certain conditions put on them, such as not leaving the state or staying away from certain places (like bars). Nowadays, it is not unusual for a probation officer to regularly look at Facebook or other social media accounts to make sure that people are following the rules.
  4. Doxing – this is more rare, but the general idea for doxing is that someone puts out private information about someone else, causing that person to be in fear. The best example of this is Person A puts Person B’s address on Facebook, knowing that Person B is likely to be harassed by other people at that address.

In today’s day and age, social media plays such an important role in everyone’s lives that oftentimes, law enforcement actually begins their investigation by using social media. Think about it. If law enforcement finds out that there was a shooting at a party, for example, it makes sense to see if they can find out the names of a few people at that party. Then they can look up those persons’ social media accounts, see if they uploaded any videos or pictures, and then they can work towards tracking down everyone in those pictures or videos and use them as potential witnesses. As I wrote above, be careful what you put out there, because whatever picture or video that you share could end up being Exhibit A at your trial or someone else’s. Post responsibly.

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