Practically everyone uses social media these days, including law enforcement. In 2013, the International Association of Chiefs of Police released a survey showing that almost 96 percent of the agencies included used social media in some capacity.
Although many agencies use social media as a way of connecting to the community and providing and gathering information, the most common use for social media was in criminal investigations. Police use social media in many ways to find criminal activity:
- Some people actually post pictures or videos of themselves committing a crime or boast about illegal activities online.
- Law enforcement asks the community for help in finding people who have committed crimes. For instance, the police may post a low-quality photo taken of a crime on social networks and ask people to help identify the individuals pictured.
- Investigators use social media connections to track networks of criminals. By looking at your friend lists, they can find other people who might have been or are involved in criminal activity.
- Law enforcement is also using social media to help find endangered or missing people. Amber alerts have people stay on alert for missing children.
- Police can track your timeline on social media. If you check in somewhere like a club or restaurant, the police might question you about your activity if a crime has occurred in the neighborhood.
- Liking a picture or video could implicate you in a crime.
Questioning the ways police are using social media
The law assumes that social media use is not private, no matter what your privacy settings are. More police agencies are putting together social media policies, but defense attorneys often question whether those policies meet the legal standards under the Constitution. If you are charged with a crime, you should talk to your defense lawyer about your social media activity and how it could affect you. Be careful about what you put on social media to avoid problems with the law.