Some people haven’t yet figured out that they should be careful about what they share on Facebook. Some of those posts made 2013 a good year for law enforcement officials who use social media as a crime-solving tool.
It’s comparable to leaving your fingerprints at the scene of a crime.
Take the case of Vincent Franklin, who’s been charged in the brutal double murders of his mother and step-father in Buncombe County, North Carolina. In a search warrant released just before the close of 2013, Detective Ryan Jordan wrote that one of Franklin's Facebook posts showed that he "had wrath" against Cheyenne Van Treese, his girlfriend, whose body was found a month after she disappeared, just before Vincent's parents’ deaths.
That Facebook post was enough to allow the warrant to search Franklin’s Facebook activity in the months before the deaths -- every status, friend requests, friends list, and anything that could possibly tie him to Van Treese’s murder.
The warrant also showed that a family member told investigators that Franklin had wanted to kill Van Treese and “bury her in the woods.” Franklin has not been charged in Van Treese’s murder. The investigation -- and complete search of Franklin's Facebook activity -- is ongoing.
Then there's the pair of teen girls, unnamed because they're minors, who were accused of robbing workers at a burger joint in Halmstad, Sweden while threatening the victims with a large kitchen knife to make off with nearly $400. A local K-9 unit tracked down the girls at their grandparents' apartment. Further evidence tying the teens to the crime was a pre-robbery selfie, posted to Facebook, showing the girls wearing black-stocking masks and hoodies with one of the teens holding a large knife.
In Chicago, a man accused of writing threatening posts on Facebook that led to a lockdown of the University of Mary campus has been arrested and charged with terrorizing students.
During a preliminary hearing, a judge ruled that there was probable cause to charge 20-year-old Patrick Casas with a Class C felony, all because of his Facebook postings. Casas has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
During Casas' hearing, a sheriff’s deputy testified that it was a high school principal in November 2013 who alerted University of Mary officials to two Facebook posts allegedly put there by Casas. One post said, "There's nothing wrong with a little shooting as long as the right people get shot."
The second post, made a day later, said, "I'll make the Virginia Tech shooting look like a game of paintball."
Not smart. According to a Lexis-Nexis Risk Solutions survey of 1,221 federal, state and local law enforcement officials, four out of five used social media to gather intelligence during investigations. The survey also found that Facebook is the most fruitful network for law enforcement, followed by YouTube. Half said they checked social media at least once a week, and the majority said social media helps them solve crimes faster.
Happy Facebook posting, social media users, and Happy New Year!