THIBODAUX, LA — As social media sites continue to grow in popularity, so do the frequency and number of posts from its users. However, have you ever considered who’s reading your page?
“I think the important thing to remember is that you and your friends are not the only ones monitoring your Facebook account,” David Melancon, Thibodaux Police Department, said. “Law enforcement, college recruiters, and potential employers; once it’s posted and it’s out there, it’s there forever.”
Criminal investigators are routinely monitoring social media sites for incriminating evidence in cases, and you might not be their intended target.
“We had a guy in our area who video taped fights,” Melancon explained. “He had aspirations to do something in production, so he would follow people around and video tape these fights. We caught wind of this, so we monitored his Facebook and YouTube posts because he would provide the evidence we needed to correlate with complaints. He made our job very easy because the evidence was there on tape. It’s hard to deny your involvement in a crime when you’re face is shown committing the crime.”
Building a case does not end with an arrest. Rather, that’s when detectives continue to search for additional evidence to be used in the court case. Too often people will discuss on social media information related to the crime for which they are accused.
“Everything that you post on social media, we can take that and put it in your case file,” Melancon noted. “It can show up as evidence in your trial. When you discuss your case and provide information that you would only know if you were there, then that’s evidence.”
But I have my profile set to private, so I’m safe, right?
“I think there’s a misconceived notion that you have a right to privacy when you post on a public site. You really don’t have a reasonable expectation to privacy,” he said. “We would be foolish not to utilize that and incorporate it into a case. It’s not our only tool, or our primary tool, but it is a tool.”
Setting your profile to private only restricts individuals you are not friends with from seeing your posts. Do you know every one of your social media friends personally?
“How many times have you befriended people you don’t know? You just hit ‘accept’ because you say, ‘oh, they seem nice,’” Melancon explained.
Could one of my friends be a cop?
Although this may seem like a tricky way to gain information, it’s very similar to more traditional police methods.
“It’s similar to an undercover police officer who goes into a home posing as a drug dealer and has recording devices on him,” Melancon explained. “If that officer is talking to the person who is making incriminating statements and selling dope and spilling the beans about the entire drug operation, that officer will walk out of the home with all the information he needs for an arrest and use it against them in court.”
The reason why this is legal is because you were not coerced to make the statements. However, if they were identified as a police officer, you would have to be read your rights.
“If they don’t know they’re speaking to a police officer, they cannot argue that they were compelled to give that information,” Melancon said. “In addition, talking about crimes you’ve committed but not the ones specific to your case can be used as character reference.
“For example, if you’re dealing with a first time offender, the argument might be that the person has never committed a crime, but we might find information suggesting that the person has been doing this for a long time, but hasn’t gotten caught until now.”
Although the odds your page is not being monitored by police, or potential employers and college recruiters, it is important to remember that every post or comment you make is a representation of who you are as a person.
“I like to tell people to imagine that you are standing in the middle of a glass house with the entire community looking at you,” Melancon noted. “Would you do or say the same thing if those people were looking? That’s the same thing you’re doing online.”