There's no doubting the popularity of social media these days. One report stated that Americans check their social media accounts an average of 17 times a day. One of the most popular social media platforms is Facebook, with 57% of adults using the site. This use is increasing, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2010, 51% of adult Facebook users visited the site daily, in 2014 that number had grown to 64% of users visiting Facebook everyday. Facebook, which was launched in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, has more than 1.5 billion users worldwide. Users post about everything in their daily lives on the site from what meals they ate to major life events such as engagements and births. And some users even post about their criminal activities.
On Air Shooting
In August of 2015, Bryce Williams, born Vester Lee Flanagan II, uploaded a disturbing video to Facebook and Twitter depicting his criminal actions against a local news team. Reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward both worked for WDBJ-TV, a local news network in Roanoke, Virginia. The pair was filming a segment with Vicki Gardner about the 50th anniversary celebration for Smith Mountain Lake when the shooting occurred. The interview was live on the air when Williams approached them and opened fire. Both Parker and Ward were killed while Gardner sustained a gun shot wound but survived.
Williams had previously worked as a reporter for WDBJ, but had been fired two years prior to the incident. In a fax sent to ABC News from Williams, he claimed that his motivation for the murders was the shooting in Charleston. In that incident a young white male, Dylann Roof, killed nine people in a historically black church. Williams was tracked down by police using his cell phone. He killed himself with a gun shot wound to the head before he could be taken into custody.
In 2013, an 18-year old by the name of Jacob Cox-Brown updated his Facebook status, writing the following:
"Drivin drunk...classsic ;) but to whoever's vehicle i hit i am sorry. :P"
His update was subsequently reported to police who placed him under arrest. The "vehicle" Cox-Brown hit was actually two parked cars and that incident was already being investigated by police when they received the tip about Cox-Brown. Police didn't have enough evidence to charge Cox-Brown with a DUI, but he was charged with two counts of failing to perform the duties of a driver. He later claimed the post was a joke and that he hit the cars because the road was icy.
All Out Brawl
In addition to criminals posting their unscrupulous activities on Facebook, user posts on the site have also been the cause of subsequent criminal activity. One such example that happened in 2012 was a street brawl that involved over 30 women. According to the Huffington Post, the fight was reportedly started after "a woman saw what she interpreted as a suggestive post on her husband's Facebook account from another woman." The fight was reported to the police but the suspects had fled before officers arrived.
As social media use continues to grow, information posted by users on Facebook and other social media platforms will continue to be valuable sources of evidence for police to use during criminal investigations.
This post is the second in our series on crime and social media. The previous post discussed criminal activities recorded using the social media app, Periscope. Click here if you wish to read that post.