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Can Your Use Of Social Media Be Criminal?

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It's probably no surprise that 91% of adults use social media regularly. What might surprise you is how often those social media accounts end up handing prosecutors the evidence needed to convict those adults of one or more crimes. In some cases, social media is one of the tools that they use to actually commit a crime. How can you end up committing a crime over social media? Consider the following examples.

Threatening The President

You might not realize it, but threatening the President of the United States is a federal crime. Under U.S. Code Title 18, you can be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In 2009, a user ended up being investigated by the Secret Service after posting an online poll that asked if President Obama should be killed. In 2012, a Florida man was arrested after stating on social media that he was going to hunt President Obama down and kill him if he was re-elected. Now that he's facing prison, he alleges that his statements were a joke and that he thought his social media posts were private. 

Using your social media as a vehicle for threats of violence is a bad idea no matter where you are directing those threats. If you aim it at a public official, however, you can almost guarantee a visit from unforgiving federal agents. Claiming that you thought your posts were private won't help you -- the courts have continuously held that there is little to no expectation of privacy when you participate in social media. Even if you have your settings limited to only a few friends, you're still sharing your information in a way that can easily be passed around.

Stalking Or Harassment

One of the most common ways that people get themselves into trouble through the use of social media is by using one or more platforms to stalk or harass others. One sure way to violate an order of protection (also called a no-contact order) is to reach out and poke someone electronically. Even non-verbal electronic communication counts as communication and can land you in jail if you do it. Another way to commit harassment through social media is to break into someone else's online account and change his or her passwords and post online under his or her account.

You can also commit a crime by creating a fake account in order to pretend that you are being harassed by someone else and then reporting the "harassment" to the police. A Michigan woman learned the hard way that the police will eventually track down the posts to the computer they come from and find out who is really behind the crime. 

Malicious Communications

Another way that people often end up running afoul of the law on social media is usually related to questionable judgment. If you make a post that is "obscene, lewd, or indecent," you run the risk of running afoul of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

You might think that, given the somewhat pornographic nature of posts that are available for viewing on many social media platforms, it would be hard to reach that standard of offensiveness. However, it happens with surprising regularity. For example, former footballer Ricky Nixon was recently arrested after making a highly indecent sexual remark about the minor grandchild of someone he was having a verbal war with online.

The lesson to be learned is that social media is an empowering tool that allows you to share information with large numbers of people all at once. It can also be a hazard that can land you in jail if you aren't thinking clearly when you post. If it happens to you, contact a defense attorney (like those at Cross, LaCross, & Murphy PLLC) as soon as you realize that you've made a mistake.