An undercover investigator with a large number of confidential informants attempted to break up a drug ring in his city. One tool he wanted to use was the state’s criminal gang sentencing enhancements, which provide for harsher sentencing for any crimes considered to further the gang’s interests. However, his informants could only provide nicknames and unsubstantiated claims that the identified suspects were gang members — there was still no convincing independent evidence of gang membership.
That is, until Facebook came along. In a burst of creative stupidity, the suspects got together and launched a Facebook page with profiles that included their street names and real names. They also posted candid pictures of the members throwing gang signs, exposing gang tattoos and dressed in their “colors” while posing with guns and drugs. They even obliged law enforcement by naming their page after their gang to remove any semblance of doubt.
Not long after, law enforcement obtained search warrants for the commercial buildings, residences, vehicles and people associated with the gang’s Facebook page and raided them all. They rounded up gang members, weapons, and a huge haul of cash and drugs. The gang members were convicted and imprisoned, putting the them out of business.
While this is an extreme example of law enforcement’s use of social media, all of us should remember that whatever we post in a public forum such as Facebook or Twitter is public — and can be used against us in a court of law. Even if you post nothing incriminating per se, time stamps and your locations are posted on your Facebook page and other social media. There may be sufficient evidence on these pages to provide law enforcement with grounds to get search warrants and search your computer further.