Social media: A growing source of evidence in FL criminal cases

Social media evidence introduces concerns about legitimacy and personal privacy rights, yet this evidence is increasingly commonly used in criminal cases.

Social media and the wealth of personal information shared through it have had various unexpected effects on people's lives. Unfortunately for people facing criminal charges in Daytona Beach, social media can significantly influence Florida criminal cases. The growing use of social media evidence can make it difficult for the accused to protect their legal rights and avoid wrongful charges.

Allegedly incriminating online activity

Today authorities often use social media to look for leads or build a case against someone, according to the New York Times. Statuses, photos, location check-ins and more can theoretically establish a person's location during a crime, connections with other alleged criminals or actual legal violations.

Sometimes, social media gives authorities access to arguably self-incriminating information. A striking example occurred in May, when a Florida man was arrested after posting a selfie that showed cash and illegal drugs, accompanied by a comment about dealing drugs. According to CBS News, undercover narcotics detectives subsequently approached the man and arrested him for allegedly selling drugs.

In many cases, though, social media evidence is not clear-cut or incontrovertible. For instance, people have been accused of gang activity after posting photos in which they were making gang signs, even though many people flash the signs jokingly, according to the New York Times. The risk of supposed evidence being taken out of context - especially if a post was shared humorously or during a moment of poor judgment - is substantial.

Alarmingly, it can be difficult for people to protect their private information from outside scrutiny and misinterpretation. Authorities have several tactics to gain access to information that is not shared publicly, according to CNN. These include:

  • Looking at the accounts of a person's online friends, who may have less secure privacy settings.
  • Compelling one of a person's online friends to give authorities access to his or her own account.
  • Creating fake accounts and directly befriending the person.
  • Demanding private information from the network with a subpoena or warrant.

This ease of access, combined with the nature of social media evidence, raises concerns about an accused person's rights to privacy and a fair case.

Questionable evidence

The use of social media evidence can be legally questionable. Taking information a person shared and using it as evidence may violate the person's Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination, according to the New York Times. Critics also argue that accessing a person's private, secure account without good cause should be seen as a violation of the Fourth Amendment, although most courts do not currently take this view, according to CNN.

Utilizing information that an accused person's online friends have shared can also introduce problems. Confirming the legitimacy or veracity of materials shared online is often a challenge. In many cases, comments and other posts that apparently incriminate a person may amount to little more than hearsay.

Despite these issues, the use of social media evidence is becoming more common. CNN reported in 2012 that 80 percent of authorities admitted to using social media to collect evidence during the investigative stage. In 2013, the New York Times found that the rate of use of social media evidence was increasing.

This trend may leave many people exposed to rights violations or wrongful charges. Considering the complex and evolving role of social media in criminal cases, anyone facing charges supported by such evidence should meet with an attorney to discuss personal rights and legal options.

Keywords: social media, divorce, evidence