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Facebook: The Loose Cannon Cop Who Doesn’t Play by the Rules

McClane Trend piece alert! As Facebook has become a bigger part of everyday life ands its reach has grown to more than 300 million users, it has taken on an increasingly large role in criminal investigations. It’s helped nab some crooks who would have gotten away otherwise, but there’s so much information available on Facebook, it occasionally leads to regrettable false positives, catching innocent people.

Consider:

  • A burglar in West Virginia was recently caught when he left his Facebook page open on his victim’s computer. From the Martinburg Journal-News:

[The victim] told police that someone had broken into her home through a bedroom window.

There were open cabinets in her garage, and other signs of a burglar.

The victim later noticed that the intruder also used her computer to check his Facebook status, and his account was still open when she checked the computer.

But sometimes, information from Facebook bubbles up in overly aggressive or misleading ways:

  • An advertising director was arrested after a shooting in April because he was Facebook friends with the victim’s ex-wife on Facebook. According to Adland, he was held for 18 hours on no other evidence — and was only friends with the woman in the first place because they had taken a few philosophy classes together in college. He’s now filing suit against a gossip site that publicized the connection.
  • According to Discover, prosecutors who use Facebook photos of drinking, partying defendants in drunk driving cases are likely to be successful in getting harsher sentences from juries — even if the photos are old. Drunk driving is of course a serious crime, particularly if it results in anyone’s death, but out-of-context photos can provide a distorted view of a defendant’s character.

Though it’s great when it leads to the delivery of justice, it’s a little unsettling that there’s so much private information out there on a for-profit site. Then again, almost all of it comes from the users — or perps — themselves.

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