For all the good social media has done in helping to connect people, it has also helped people commit crimes in a number of ways. While the most obvious recent example was the planning far-right agitators did before storming the capitol, there are many other ways social media can be used for criminal acts. Here are some of the most common crimes people commit on social media:
Stalking, False Impersonation and Bullying
Public profiles have made it easier than ever to stalk, discredit or harass someone you don’t like. Posting personal information about someone else (doxing), pretending to be someone else for the purpose of destroying their reputation and making criminal threats against someone are all common problems online.
Hacking, Phishing and Fraud
Breaking into someone’s account, whether through phishing to get their password or even just logging into the account of someone you’re dating is considered unauthorized access of someone’s computer, which is a crime.
When you post something on someone’s account or pretend to be someone else by creating a new account, this can also be a crime, particularly if you either harm their reputation or do so to get money from other people. A surprisingly common way to do this is through “catfishing” someone and conning them into giving you money to see them. If you make up a totally fictional person for the purposes of conning people out of money, you won’t be charged with impersonation, but you can still be charged with fraud.
Another significant problem is identity theft where people get enough information about another person on social media to impersonate them to obtain a credit card in their name. This can be done by combing through existing information someone has posted online or by posing as a friend or love interest in order to convince a person to provide them with this information.
Ever since the days of early chat rooms, people have used social media to solicit sex with minors or to facilitate prostitution. But these are not the only sex crimes people commit on social media. In forums with private membership, some people also trade sexual pictures of minors, share upskirt photos or post revenge porn of their exes.
Selling Illegal Items
The same way that people use private groups to trade illegal pornography, some people also use these groups to sell illegal items such as drugs or guns. Perhaps most disturbingly though are cases where people actually use these sites to facilitate human trafficking.
One common but lesser known crime that starts on social media is when someone scouts out people going on vacation and then robs their home while they are gone. This is why experts suggest only posting vacation photos when you have returned home and refraining from mentioning upcoming travel online.
Sharing Pictures and Videos of Crimes
While not a crime in itself, sharing video or photos of crimes is a good way to end up behind bars. People often post videos of violent crimes including assault, battery, child abuse and animal abuse, but they also often post pictures of items they have stolen. All of this makes it particularly easy for the police to investigate crimes, especially since it’s completely legal for police to impersonate someone else in order to gain access to a suspect’s private social media posts.
Getting Caught on Social Media
While almost all of this behavior is banned on just about every social media site, many private groups and profiles on these websites make it easy for people to continue these practices without getting caught. Though it’s impractical for social media companies to police every profile, photo and conversation on their site, if someone reports a questionable activity, the company will often investigate it. If they discover a crime may have taken place, they will usually report it to the police. Additionally, the person who uncovered the activity may also take it directly to the police.
It’s worth mentioning that even if you delete the activity from your account, someone may have taken a screenshot or the social media company may have logs recording all past activities. This is why it’s so important to call an attorney as soon as possible if you believe you may be under investigation for a crime.
Peter M. Liss has experience fighting all types of crimes ranging from theft all the way to human trafficking. If you have been accused of a crime or believe you are under investigation, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation.