Advice from a Criminal Lawyer: Facebook, MySpace, Social Networking

MySpace, Facebook, Social Networking… all the kids are doing the social networking thing these days.  Twittering too!  A lot of adults also use these tools, including LinkedIn and on and on. They’re fun, they’re great ways to keep in touch with friends, to reconnect with old friends, and to share what’s going on in your life.

Police and investigators also know about these services, and they also know that lots of people under investigation may use Facebook, Twitter, MySpace – not just celebrities!

But there are problems with such services if you are facing a DUI, drug, misdemeanor, or felony charge.

I’ve seen instances of police investigators or detectives in Raleigh, Cary or Apex searching and printing out MySpace pages or Facebook pages where there may be evidence of “gang activity” (pictures of people flashing gang signs or referring to gangs), “drug activity” (admissions or pictures of people using drugs), or other sorts of activity that might suggest guilt. In many cases, these MySpace pages just show people having a good time, but, coupled with other evidence, they may suggest guilty or criminal conduct if ever presented to a jury.

This isn’t to mean you should be paranoid.  Police don’t regularly check Facebook or MySpace or other pages like that for criminality.  But if they’re investigating a crime, and think you may be involved or know who is involved, they may check to see if you have a MySpace or Facebook page.

Where can this evidence be most damaging?  Well, let me give you one example.  Let’s imagine you’ve been stopped for a DUI.  And let’s imagine your Facebook, MySpace or Twitter page have comments you made earlier in the night that you were going out to “party” or “drink” or “get wasted”.  Let’s imagine the police really want to nail you.  It’s very easy to do a search, find if you have such a page, find out if you’ve made comments that are incriminating, and use those to suggest to a jury that you were planning to get drunk, and took no precautions when you drove your car.

Even if your Facebook or MySpace page is “private” it may not be completely private.  And even if it is private, the police could subpoena records from Facebook or MySpace of your “private” pages.  So simply making these pages “private” is not a solution.

My advice is obviously be smart about what you write on your Facebook pages, and what kind of pictures you post.  You don’t want to end up like Michael Phelps, where pictures of smoking a bong are used to prove criminal activity. And you don’t want to end up like The Hills star Stephanie Pratt who got stopped for a DUI and whose Twitter page listed her statement earlier that night that she was going out to party.

If you think you may be accused of a crime, or you’ve been stopped for a DUI in Raleigh or Cary or Apex, and you want to talk about how to handle Facebook, MySpace or Twitter social networking sites, give me a call at (919) 352-9411

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.