Criminal Activity and Social Networking Websites
What’s a Social Networking Website?
A social networking website allows users to communicate online with other friends, family, and acquaintances. Most social network sites allow a person to post personal information such as their age, birth date, name, etc. Many of them also allow users to post photographs and videos of themselves online.
Social network websites also frequently provide a chat function that allows users to chat in a manner similar to texting. Because of the great deal of private information that such websites maintain, there have been many concerns raised regarding crime and privacy.
While most of these sites are password-protected, they have frequently become the target of hacking and other types of cyber crimes. Also, there is debate as to whether information from these sites can be used as evidence in criminal trials.
What Types of Crimes are Involved in Social Network Web Sites?
Many types of new crimes have arisen in connection with social network websites. A user should be aware of the information that they provide on such websites, as they can sometimes be accessed by various criminal means. Some examples of these crimes are:
- Identity theft
- Scams and fraud schemes
- Cyber bullying resulting in emotional distress
- Sexual assault (many assaulters use a fake online identity to obtain an in-person meeting with a victim)
- Sexting crimes (sending illicit photos or videos online) - may lead to child pornography charges if the users are underage.
- Crimes based on information gathered from websites, especially home robberies committed after the family posted their vacation information
A main issue with social network websites is that the laws regulating this area have not yet been fully standardized. Also, it can be difficult for parents to monitor the activities of their children who visit such websites.
Can Information from a Social Network Website be Used in a Criminal Trial?
Many lawyers and even judges have begun obtaining information from social network websites for use as evidence in trial. Again, this has caused much debate; however, the general consensus is that such information can be used as evidence in court, sometimes without the person’s approval.
For example, it is possible for a defendant’s alibi to be seriously weakened if there is contradictory evidence found on a social website (even if it is not their own account).
Message posts, status updates, photographs, and even login times have been used in various ways in court to prove or disprove a legal theory. Employers often use such information in workplace dispute lawsuits.
What Can I Do to Prevent Social Network Crimes?
If you are currently using a social website, there are many steps you can take to protect yourself and your affiliates from online crimes. Some suggested tips are:
- Utilize the website’s privacy settings. Your information is usually viewable to the public, but you can disable public access to your account.
- Do not post important information such as your date of birth, address, e-mail account, or phone number. Such information can be used elsewhere, for example in a credit fraud scheme. You may also wish to use a name other than your legal name.
- Do not post photographs or videos of yourself if you are unsure of how they may be used if obtained by an unauthorized party.
- Do not respond to suspicious ads, notifications, or messages. Delete them without opening them.
- Do not engage in chats or messaging with unfamiliar persons.
- Be sure to delete any accounts that you are no longer interested in using.
It’s definitely not worth it to endanger yourself or your loved ones through the use of social networking websites. While they have become a common way to communicate, be sure that you exercise caution when using these websites.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Social Networking Website issues?
If you have any disputes at all in connection with a social networking website, you may wish to contact a lawyer for advice. As mentioned, this area of law is relatively new and may vary according to jurisdiction. An attorney can assist you in filing a claim or representing you in court if necessary.
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Last Modified: 07-07-2011 02:48 PM PDT
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