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Police Use ‘Social Media Snitches’ to Find Evidence of Crimes, Make Arrests

Posted by Steve Karimi | Aug 05, 2016 | 0 Comments

Four out of five law enforcement officers say they use social media to gather information for their investigations and at least half check sites weekly in connection to open cases. Some are even using fake social media sites to gather information and cultivate “social media snitches.”

Social media usage has jumped 10-fold in the last decade and more and more what is being posted online is showing up in court in the prosecution of criminal cases. Almost two-thirds of American adults use social networking sites, according to the Pew Research Center. When the Washington D.C.-based think tank started conducting research on the topic in 2005, the number of American adults using social networking sites was just 7 percent.

Schools in one Florida county adopted a program in 2015 to monitor social media through the use of a software program. In the first year, it lead to a dozen law enforcement investigations. Two years ago a Wisconsin police department began using the same software to monitor social media.

With so many people on social media sites and police using it to find suspects, why would anyone who committed a crime post incriminating evidence to their Facebook, Snapchat or other accounts? Forensic psychologists think they have the answer: attention.

"The need for approval (from peers) is overriding any type of long-term planning," said Pamela Rutledge, the director of the Media Psychology Research Center.

"The allure of fame, and the excitement of the attention, it's almost like it's intoxicating," said N.G. Berrill, an executive director of the New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavioral Science.

Because the need to “show off” on social media, particularly among young people, can encourage copycats, new proposed guidelines in the United Kingdom will allow judges and magistrates to consider the malicious use of social media sites as aggravating factors when meting out sentences.

In July, a 30-year-old Milwaukee man was charged in a hit-and-run after he posted a news article about the incident to his public Facebook page. In the article, the man was described as having “mouth piercings” and “foaming at the mouth.” Also in July, a Massachusetts man and woman were found guilty of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. The couple posted images of the attack on Snapchat. In late May, a Texas man was arrested, suspected of the murder of his girlfriend, after posting photos to her Facebook page of himself covered in blood and of her bloodied corpse. Late last year, jurors in Florida found a man guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of his wife. He was dubbed the “Facebook Killer” because he posted a photo of his wife's body on the social media site.

Bragging about crimes is nothing new. It is part of the thrill for some serial killers dating back to Jack the Ripper in the late 1800s who taunted police with letters detailing his murders. The difference today, however, is the immediacy and expansiveness of social media posts.

No matter the circumstance, anything post on social media remains forever and can potentially be used as evidence. If you have been arrested and face criminal charges, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.

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If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-621-8777 during regular business hours or 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.