Thinking of Posting on Social Media? Think Again.
In the dawn of websites and social media applications such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Vine, and Snapchat, it is clear social media platforms have changed the way we, as a society, communicate with one another on a daily basis.
Before posting that hilarious meme or sarcastic Facebook rant, you might want to read on to learn what NOT to post on social media.
“How-To” Videos Showing Criminal Activity.
In 2015, an 18 year old man from New Jersey posted a video to YouTube, which he titled, “Cameras Allowed: How To Actually Sneak into a Music Festival.” In the video, the New Jersey resident detailed how others could crash a music festival without paying for admission, just as he did. The man recorded himself appearing to enter Delaware’s Firefly Music Festival, an electronic music festival that takes place annually in Delaware and charges nearly $200 for admission to the event. Law enforcement thereafter watched the “How-To” video and issued a warrant for his arrest for criminal trespass and theft.
Facebook Rants Calling for Violence.
While the First Amendment provides certain protection on free speech, this protection is by no means absolute. Before posting a meme or status on Twitter or Tumblr, it is important to understand the difference between a joke and a threat. Intimidation is a type of threat where the speaker directs a threat to another person (or persons) with the intent of placing that person in fear of bodily harm or death. (Source: Virginia v. Black Et Al.
(2003) 538 U.S. 343.)
In 2015, an Atlanta woman was arrested shortly after posting a Facebook rant calling for “Death to all white cops nationwide.” The mother was charged with disseminating information related to terrorist acts.
Posting a status that you “could just kill Susan for eliminating Johnny on the Bachelor this week” would fall within protected speech because, given the context, a reasonable person would not believe you actually intended on killing Susan, let alone that you intended for Susan to interpret your status as a threat. However, a Twitter rant calling for others to “shoot at every white cop in the nation,” such as the woman’s post shown above, brings the status far beyond a joke and well into the unprotected threatening speech that could lead to serious federal and state criminal charges.
Online Bullying and Threats to Expose Private Information.
In California, it is illegal to induce fear in another person by threatening to expose their secrets. Threatening to post intimate photographs and personal identifying information of another person unless that person pay a fee for removal could result in criminal charges, as was the case in the 2016 San Diego case, People v. Bollaert
(Source: Cal. Penal Code §519(4)); People v. Bollaert
(2016) 248 Cal. App. 4th 699, 203 Cal. Rptr. 3d 814, review denied.)
Inappropriate “You Just Got Hacked!” Statuses.
Under California law, it is illegal to willfully obtain the personal identifying information of another and use that information for any unlawful purpose. (Source: Cal. Penal Code §530.5.)
In 2011, a California judge sentenced a teen boy to serve 90 days to one year in custody at a juvenile detention facility after the teen logged onto a young woman’s Facebook account, added sexual comments to the woman’s profile, and left inappropriate comments to other individuals while using the woman’s account.
After a laptop, cash, watches, and other items were reported stolen from a local Chula Vista church in 2014, detectives recovered a cell phone while processing the crime scene. A search of the contents of the phone revealed a “selfie” photograph of a man, whom residents were immediately able to recognize as 26-year-old Adam Howe. The following day, detectives discovered the stolen items in Howe’s belongings and subsequently placed him under arrest.