Legal Impact of Your Online Life

May 16th, 2012No Comments

Facebook, Twitter, online forums, blogs, email, and texting.  Electronic media is an ever an ever growing form of communication and social interaction.  It’s easy, readily accessible, and entertaining, but is it safe?  Under normal circumstances, your online life may seem a small matter.  That can quickly change if you are involved in a self defense shooting.

Use of Social Media for Investigations

Investigators are increasingly turning to electronic media of all types during investigations. A 2011 survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police revealed that 71% of the police agencies surveyed used social media during investigations.  There are organizations dedicated to researching and conducting social media forensics, and for as little as $80 you can buy software designed to scan a suspect’s computer “for evidence of social network activity and [to] identify social networking web pages visited by the suspect.”  Social media has been used as evidence of wrong doing, fraud, intent, motive, and mental state.  Pictures of suspects drinking, websites visited, online arguments or threats, and forum posts are readily available and are routinely used to build a picture of the suspect for investigators and juries.

If you are involved in a self defense shooting, you should expect to have your computers, cell phones, diaries, and even your library seized for evidence.  The court may even order you to turn over all user names and passwords for your social media accounts.  This may seem like an invasion of your privacy, but recent court decisions (see Largent v. Reed) clearly state that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in information shared on social media sites.

Protecting Yourself

The golden rule for social media is “Think before you post”.  Signature lines such as “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” or a simple comment that a criminal shot during a home invasion “got what he deserved” may very well be used to show a propensity or desire to use violence.  Prosecuting attorneys are not required to explain the context of your statements and if they can slap down 20, 50, or 100 such comments in front of the jury it is going to hurt your defense.  How much worse will it look if they can show you have anti-government tendencies, routinely make racist comments, or that you have a “shoot first and ask questions later” attitude?  I see all of these and more on forums all the time.

Spend some time on your favorite forum and pretend you are a prosecuting attorney looking for evidence against one of the forum members.  You’ll be surprised how easy it is to twist even seemingly innocent comments.  Now look at your own comments and see how they might use them against you.

The internet is a wonderful place to connect with like minded individuals, to share lessons learned, and educate yourself and others.  However, the impression of anonymity is an illusion.  Remember, anything you say or post can and will be used against you in a court of law.


© 2012, mjshozda. All rights reserved.

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