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Keep Your Friends Close and Your Friends List Closer: The Use of Social Media in Criminal Prosecutions


We live in a digital age which has changed every aspect of our daily lives. It has also changed the way that the Government does its investigations into criminal activity. An exceedingly common investigatory method used by the police and prosecutors is to search a suspect’s Facebook page and messages for proof of a criminal offense.

Facebook is a great tool in lots of different criminal investigations. After a fight between people that know each other, it’s pretty common to see insults and comments on Facebook walls or in private messages containing threats or details about the fight. Many people who use and sell drugs brag quite openly about their drug use on their facebook pages and may have photos of illegal substances in their photo albums. Check-ins on Facebook, foursquare, and twitter have been used to verify someone’s location at the time of a crime. It’s not uncommon for people who are on probation or parole to have their probation officer check their social media pages to see what they are up to, and for them to lodge technical violations of probation and/or parole based on what they find. And for those on the sex offender registry, they may be banned from social media altogether, and may face serious criminal charges for any small misstep in relation to the use of social media.

Many people think setting their privacy settings to “private” or “just friends” will prevent this content from being discovered, but this is simply not the case. The police and Commonwealth can and will subpoena data from Facebook, even comments or posts you may have deleted. Furthermore, keeping all your content private on Facebook isn’t that easy in the first place since Facebook is constantly changing the rules surrounding their private content and user settings. I advise all my clients that a good rule of thumb is to not post anything online that you don’t want the whole world to know, regardless of privacy settings.

Now just because the police or Commonwealth have discovered incriminating on your Facebook or other social media account doesn’t mean it will automatically be admissible against you in a criminal prosecution. The prosecution must still authenticate the evidence and prove its relevance and reliability. An experienced criminal defense attorney can challenge this evidence and potentially get it excluded or reduce its significance in the eyes of the jury. Attorney Frank Walker is a Nationwide top 100 criminal defense attorney who is well versed in the ins and outs of the use of social media in criminal prosecutions. Don’t let a stupid mistake on social media affect the rest of your life in the real world. With offices in Pittsburgh, PA and Morgantown, WV Attorney Walker can fight for you. Lines are open 24/7! Call (412) 212-3878 for our office in Pittsburgh and (304) 712-2089 for our office in Morgantown!