The arrival and continued growth of social media has had a profound impact on many facets of society, out of these, fewer realms have felt the implications of this in a more resound manner than the field of law. Social media has had major implications on the concepts and responsibilities behind freedom of speech, social and workplace abuse or harassment, and even the ways in which evidence is collected, and suspects identified.
Since social media is such an important part of our lives as to play a part in legal affairs, it is important for people to understand how it fits into the legal realm. So, to paint a clearer picture, here are a few noteworthy legal cases that have been centred around social media.
It is estimated that around 83% of law enforcement personnel conduct investigations using channels on social media, often to good effect. However, in some cases, seemingly innocuous posts can be used against profile holders.
In the case of Hoffman vs. the State (US), an 18-year-old was convicted for vehicular manslaughter when posts from her MySpace page promoting alcohol abuse were put forward as evidence. Had Hoffman known before the incident that this could be done, she would likely have been more careful about her posts.
There are plenty of stories where suspects have been identified on social media following a heist or crime. In some cases, guilty parties have actually boasted about their crimes on social media, only to be arrested soon after, while others had been identified by knowing parties or even victims of the crime.,
In the case of Bradley vs. the state, the victim of an armed robbery was able to identify his attacker using social media, which eventually led to the perpetrator’s arrest.
Since social media provides an endless database of photos, it has become the perfect tool for identifying suspects. However, one must ask in the case of Bradley vs. the State, how reliable was the victims judgment in the situation?
One of the flipsides of many social media platforms, is that they provide a relatively safe place for criminal activity to be organised. A good example of this concerns the anarchist group ‘Anonymous’ who until recently, relied heavily on platforms such as Twitter to organise protest events. Child exploitation is also a commonly rife problem amongst social media platforms.
All of this makes it essential for law enforcement agencies to engage heavily with the medium, and more importantly, to be able to navigate and monitor it effectively.
These are but a few ways in which social media has transformed the law sphere of society, and we can expect many more changes to come about as the medium grows ever more intertwined with our communities.
What is important to remember is that there is a responsibility of use when it comes to social media, in that it should be treated as a public space. Because you never know when that post from your youth might come back to haunt you, or indeed come in handy when looking for justice.,
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