Be Careful With Social Media When Being Charged With a Crime
Like most people nowadays, you probably spend a fair amount of time on social media. It’s a way of keeping up with what’s going on in the world and connecting with friends and relatives. It might seem that your activity on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest could not possibly do you any harm.
Unfortunately, this is far from true. What you do on social media speaks reams about you and the life you live. This may not seem like much to you, but if you’re under criminal investigation or involved in any sort of litigation, your posts and the ones to which you respond could serve as nails in your legal coffin, spelling a dismal end to your chances of winning your case or fighting the charges against you.
That’s because your friends and acquaintances aren’t the only ones interested in your daily activities. Law enforcement could be scouting you out as well.
Law Enforcement and Your Privacy on Social Media
Members of law enforcement increasingly rely on the various social media sites to search for evidence of criminal activity and gather evidence, and this usage is far from casual. We have found that most of these agencies use specific algorithms for help in performing their investigatory activities. Today, more than eight out of every 10 police departments rely on social media for just this purpose, and they’re doing it on a worldwide scale.
It wasn’t always this way. In an earlier time, members of law enforcement made contacts and developed friendships in the neighborhoods they patrolled. This allowed them to hear of crimes in the making and learn of the questionable characters who could be involved in their planning.
However, this is really nothing new. Law enforcement has traditionally made use of modern technologies as they have arisen on the scene. One popular application, PredPol, allows them to map historical hotspots for criminal activity and using this data as a means of predicting when, where and what types of crimes might appear in these areas in the future. This app does not, however, make use of social media.
The detective who logs into your Facebook page or follows you on Twitter is taking the idea one step further. In a move that some would call profiling, they will expand their algorithms to scope out such things as user names and word choices to make the same predictions. By searching for occurrences of certain key expressions, they hope to:
- Identify criminal networks.
- Pin down a suspect’s location.
- Learn of planned criminal activity.
- Collect evidence against a person or persons.
- Gather data to use as probable cause for obtaining a search warrant.
We always prefer that our clients keep their social media posting as innocuous as possible. For anyone who is or plans to be involved in criminal activity, these posts could quickly turn incriminating. In its relentless attempts to pin you down, law enforcement will happily use them as evidence against you.
That applies just as strongly to the posts you “like,” share or retweet as it does to the pictures you choose to broadcast and the people you list as friends. This last point is especially important, for if any of these people have been involved in illegal doings, accusations of guilt by association are always a possibility. It may seem unfair, but there it is.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Privacy
While your online activity may seem innocent to you, law enforcement has ways of ferreting out its deeper meaning. Once they have you in their sights for any reason at all, you’ll need to be doubly careful. This means that you should:
- Never post pictures of your weapon arsenal, no matter how impressive you believe it to be.
- Never live-stream your current location. If law enforcement is looking for you, you’ll only be leading them right to your door.
- Never use your full name on posts and tweets. An alias or deliberate misspelling will serve you much better.
- Never share posts or retweet tweets without first giving some thought to where they came from and who will see them next.
- Never advertise the street address of your workplace or living quarters.
- Never post pictures containing signs or landmarks that serve as giveaways to your usual haunts.
- Never share photos of yourself at or near a crime scene. They could lead law enforcement to suspect that you yourself were somehow involved in whatever it was that took place.
Above all, watch those Facebook “friend” requests. This is a favorite trick used by detectives and law enforcement in general to gain access to your personal posts. Remember too that the things you put online are likely to remain there for a very long time. You may think that you’ve deleted them, but you never know who has carefully copied them down while they still were out there. In fact, if you are currently under investigation or involved in any sort of litigation, you should seriously consider closing out your social accounts entirely.
Always remember that the things you post on social media can come back to haunt you in the blink of an eye. If you’re afraid that your actions in this regard may have already damaged your criminal case, hurt your reputation or put you in any sort of danger, Gregory & Waldo can help. Call us today for a free consultation, and we will be glad to advise you.