How strong a role does social media play in criminal investigations?

Social media has become more popular with law enforcement as a tool in finding incriminating evidence.

Social media sites have become the most popular way for people to stay in touch with others. They put up pictures of places they visit, share information about their day-to-day activities, vent out their frustrations or anger, and even brag about their accomplishments. Yet, people in Catskill should be aware that social media posts and photos can also be used against them in a criminal investigation.

Mining information

CNN reports that law enforcement agencies across the country are becoming more social media savvy, learning how to mine damaging information. For example, officers used posts that one New Yorker published to his Facebook friends to charge him with multiple offenses involving drugs, weapons and murder. The posts included written information about making threats against people and that connected him to violent crimes. Photos he posted depicted him in the act of making signs associated with a gang. Law enforcement was able to obtain the documentation when a friend of the New Yorker willingly shared the account with them.

Some law enforcement agencies will set up fake accounts in order to connect with someone who has attracted their attention. Others have directly approached social media sites with search warrants and some have brought in social media experts to train their officers on how to search media sites for incriminating evidence.

Increasing in popularity

Social media is becoming almost a standard search tool in the same way that officers will seek out eyewitnesses or look for fingerprints. The New York Times reports that one survey showed social media was used in investigations by over 80 percent of the 500 law enforcement agencies that participated. Part of the reason for this is that people regularly confess to their crimes on social media, almost making it too easy for law enforcement and prosecutors to prove their guilt.

CNN relates some of the stories. One teenager advertised for a hit man to kill the 15-year-old girl he had already pleaded guilty of raping. Another man actually took a picture of his wife after killing her and then posted it on Facebook, admitting to the act.

Unnecessary legal trouble

People often use social media to pose as something they aren't but this could get them into trouble with the law. For example, posting pictures where they are posing with a fake gun, making gang signs when they aren't a gang member or appear to incriminate themselves in a crime that never happened are only going to get them an appointment with their local police department. This happened to one 19-year-old girl after she claimed in a video on YouTube that she robbed a bank.

When people have been charged with committing a crime, they may find it beneficial to seek legal counsel. An attorney can address their concerns and show them their options.