In just two short decades, social media has blossomed to the point where it is an integral part of most people’s everyday life. The familiarity, however, can be deceiving. This is particularly true if you are a suspect or defendant in a criminal prosecution. In today’s day and age, law enforcement is also trolling social media, looking for evidence of criminal activity – and you might be surprised how many people manage to hand over evidence of their own crimes to the police by posting incriminating photos and/or statements on social media.
Law Enforcement and Social Media
According to a Georgetown Law article, 91 percent of adults in the United States use social media. In 2012, more than one billion people were using Facebook actively each month, and Twitter had over 140 million active users posting 340 million Tweets a day. Over five years later, the social media giants continue to grow. What most people don’t think about though, is that all those social media posts create fertile hunting ground for law enforcement officers trying to solve crimes. Make no mistake, the police activity utilize social media to look for suspects and gather evidence. Not only will they overtly ask the public for help solving crimes by posting information on their own social media accounts, but they can legally create fake accounts in an attempt to gain access to a suspects account or the accounts of friends and relatives. Once you post something on social media, you need to assume that the police can find it and use it against you.
How Social Media Has Been Used to Solve Crimes
You don’t have to look far to find examples of how social media has been used to solve crimes in the past. Consider the following examples:
- Hate crime — in Center City Philadelphia, a group of friends ran into two gay men back in 2012. After establishing that the two men were a couple, the group beat and robbed them. One of the victims was so badly hurt, he had to go to the hospital and get his mouth wired shut. Although the suspects were captured on a security camera earlier that night, the police had trouble identifying them, so they turned to social media and asked for help identifying the suspects. A Twitter user by the name of “FanSince09” had around 5,000 followers at the time so he posted a link to the surveillance video, asking for help from his followers. Through small clues in the video, people of the Internet were able to find a group photograph, which lead to identifying a restaurant where the attackers had eaten that night. Then, they looked at Facebook’s “check in” feature to see who was there the night of the crime. It only took them 2 hours to identify the suspects!
- Cat cruelty — a teenager uploaded a video of himself kicking a ginger kitten off his back porch. Before he deleted the video, it was spread across Reddit and 4chan in an attempt to identify him. It wasn’t long before he was identified as 17-year-old Walter Easley. The incident was reported to the police and PETA posted his personal information online, after which he began to receive death threats.
- High school rapists – high school students from Steubenville, Ohio were having an end-of-summer party in a large, empty field back in 2012 when one of the young girls got so drunk, she passed out. She was sexually assaulted multiple times by several football players. One student posted a picture of the back of two football players dragging the girl by her wrists on Instagram, including the hashtag “#rape.” The victim did not go to their high school, so no one at the party knew who she was and no one came forward to identify the perpetrators. A crime blogger re-posted the photos from Instagram along with other evidence from social media posts, accusing local police of showing favoritism to their local football stars. The victim and her parents were able to find an overwhelming amount of evidence about her rape on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. They gathered the evidence on a flash drive, and handed it into Steubenville police. A week later, two men were arrested for rape.
Contact an Omaha Criminal Defense Attorney at Petersen Law Office
If you (or a loved one) have been charged with a criminal offense in Nebraska, consult with an experienced Omaha criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.