How Law Enforcement and Prosecutors Use Social Media
While watching an episode of “The First 48” on A&E, I noticed that the police detectives would go straight to Facebook and look up people that had been incriminated for crimes. That brought me to the question- “How do law enforcement and prosecutors use social media?” After doing some research online, I have learned just how law enforcement agencies are actively using social media. How can you best protect yourself from law enforcement online? You are probably asking yourself – “can my Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram social media accounts, be used as evidence against me in a U.S. court of law?”
Facebook posts, tweets from Twitter, Instagram pictures, Snapchats and YouTube videos, can all cause you to be brought into court. Believe it or not Police agencies have created fake accounts to catch suspects, subpoenaed individuals for sending slandering Tweets, and even charged individuals for being in a picture with suspected criminals.
Just to be clear and remove all doubt, everything you post online is accessible to anyone. All the content you have ever created online is out there forever, all the time, it never leaves. Is that clear enough? Think about that for a second. EVERYTHING you have ever posted. Remember that night you drank too much and decided to tell all of Facebook that your ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend is a two-timing rat? Or that picture that your friend took and posted of you drinking a fishbowl full of margarita. It’s a little scary right? Don’t think that you can simply “delete” your account and you will be safe, even if your account has been “deleted,” you can still be prosecuted for what you’ve posted online. It’s all out there, and law enforcement can use your social media posts against you. With technology ever changing and growing so quickly, exactly how police and prosecutors use social media is not definitively defined. Each police department uses social media differently, but be assured that all use social media platforms to help them with their investigations.
What Social Media Posts Get You In Trouble?
There are thousands of posts that can get you in legal trouble. Here is a great rule of thumb- If you think the police or courts will be able to use it, do not post it. Some of the most common post that you can get in legal trouble include: flashing gang signs, wearing gang colors, showing gang tattoos, and promoting gang activities. Posting about drugs or drug paraphernalia you would think is a no brainer right? Apparently not. There are countless videos of people using drugs all over the internet, I especially like the ones where people will ask to buy drugs on Twitter or Facebook. “Hey anyone got a 20 sack? I’m at the Wendy’s on 18th street.” Remember that most all Police departments and Sheriff departments have Twitter and Facebook accounts and monitor them regularly. If you are taking pictures or associate with people involved in illegal activity, make sure you are aware of the risks you are taking. The pictures or posts could be 6 years old, it is proven that law enforcement can still use it against you in the court of law. These are just a few examples and don’t even come close to covering the full spectrum of what you should refrain from putting on the World Wide Web. Make sure you think about what you are posting before you post. Take a second to step back and think before posting.
How Do Police Use Social Media For Investigations?
Social media usage for investigations is a very grey area and there are no exact laws in place. Social media is ever changing and how police use it is continuing to change. Law enforcement are using social media to investigate people posting illegal activity. 81 percent of law enforcement professionals actively use social media as a tool in investigations. Moreover, 73 percent of law enforcement believe social media can help solve cases more quickly. If your profiles are public, then police have full rights to look into the content you have posted. Technically, it is public information and anyone can look at it. Therefore, there is no need to obtain a warrant to look into your social media accounts. Facebook states in this Facebook Newsroom article “For the first time, we are also reporting information about non-disclosure orders: approximately 60% of the requests we received for user data from authorities in the United States contained a non-disclosure order that prohibited us from notifying the user.” What does that mean? Put simply, Facebook does not have to tell you that an agency has requested your information. Facebook continues to state: “We recognize there are serious threats to public safety and that law enforcement has an important responsibility to keep people safe. Our legal and safety teams work hard to respond to legitimate law enforcement requests while fulfilling our responsibility to protect people’s privacy and security. We will continue to advocate for improvements to the laws and procedures that govern international law enforcement cooperation and government access to information.” Who’s side is Facebook on? Once again it is a very grey area.
Protect Your Social Media From Law Enforcement Online:
If you take anything from this article, let it be this- If it sounds like a bad idea, it is, so don’t post it. The best way to protect yourself on social media is to not have any accounts at all. We all know that is not going to happen, so be smart. That is the best advice I can offer you. Beginning and ending relationships, fights with significant others, problems with a co-worker, whatever the situation you have to first ask yourself- Does any of this belong in the public eye? Not for just the Police to see, but your parents? Your Boss? Future employers? I hope this article has forced you to look at social media in a different light.
Contact Jones Brown Law
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