Found via Concurring Opinions.
The Associated Press has an interesting story on the perils of using Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites. The Times UK ran a similar story earlier this year. I previously blogged about problems with those sites’ designs and their data collection and distribution practices. Now, the Associated Press is reporting on use of social networking sites in criminal trials.
Online hangouts like Facebook and MySpace have offered crime-solving help to detectives and become a resource for employers vetting job applicants. Now the sites are proving fruitful for prosecutors, who have used damaging Internet photos of defendants to cast doubt on their character during sentencing hearings and argue for harsher punishment.
“Social networking sites are just another way that people say things or do things that come back and haunt them,” said Phil Malone, director of the cyberlaw clinic at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. “The things that people say online or leave online are pretty permanent.”
The pictures, when shown at sentencing, not only embarrass defendants but can make it harder for them to convince a judge that they’re remorseful or that their drunken behavior was an aberration. (Of course, the sites are also valuable for defense lawyers looking to dig up dirt to undercut the credibility of a star prosecution witness.)
The social networking pages of celebrities and politicians’ children are often mined for embarrassing photos or statements. The Wonkette blog posted photos from the Facebook page of Bob Corker’s daughter. The blog ran an image of Julia Corker in her underwear and also one of her kissing another girl under the headline “More Facebook Fun: Bob Corker’s Daughter Experiments With Mary Cheneyism.” And then there are the pages of non-famous individuals.
Social networking site users are quickly learning that the data they post online is public and usually permanent. Most people won’t have to worry about Facebook photos being used in a criminal trial, but everyone should think twice about whether to blog about drunken nights or sexual activities, post potentially embarrassing photos, or other compromising data. Consider if you would like your employer or grandmother to see the site; it’s likely that they will someday. Once data is published online, it’s difficult to control who sees it and how the data is used.