The world of social media arrests and prosecutions

What happens when a tweet or Facebook page becomes of interest to the law?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Five years ago, the idea of being arrested for a tweet or Facebook post may have seemed laughable.

However, as both the general public and governmental agencies begin to use social networks, the potential behind the exchange of information instantaneously on a global platform has been understood. Not only can social media be used as a valuable learning tool, news resource or marketing treasure trove, it is also used for criminal purposes.

Governments across the world are now keeping social media activity on the radar, and sometimes acting within their legal jurisdiction if they come across something that raises the hackles on their neck.

The latest example is that of a U.S. marine who may get the sack for an 'anti-Obama' Facebook page -- more and more people are finding themselves on the wrong side of the law for their online activities.

What are some of the recent examples of such clashes with the law, and what were the results?

See also - Gallery: Social media charges and prosecutions

1.) Bound, gagged and posted on Facebook

Andre Curry, 21, of South Racine Avenue, was charged with aggravated domestic battery and unlawful restraint after an image of his one year-old daughter was posted on Facebook -- bound in duct tape.
His attorney said it was 'a joke', and the photo was taken down afterwards, possibly reported as abusive on the social networking site.

The photo appeared to show the girl with her hands bound in duct tape, and a strip covered her mouth. A caption with the photo read, "This is wut happens wen my baby hits me back."

Facebook’s site security says content that is “hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence” is not allowed on the site.

Result: Curry pleaded not guilty and his family were able to post ten percent of his $30,000 bond for his release. Pending trial, he is not allowed access to the Internet or to see his daughter.

2.) YouTube racism results in charges

On a South London train service from the Croydon to Wimbledon, UK, a woman was recorded exploding in a furious tirade against other train passengers. After the video was uploaded to YouTube, it went viral -- resulting in both the media and police's attention.

In the video, a 34 year-old woman lets loose a barrage against different groups -- including 'black', Polish and 'brown people' not being English, and that they should 'sort their own countries out'. She then engages in arguments with other passengers, who are of various backgrounds, all the while holding a small boy in her lap.

Result: After 11 million views, a plethora of YouTube responses, social media outrage and a 'kill the beast' mentality, the woman was charged with a racially aggravated public order offence and one with intent to cause fear. Her address has been widely circulated on Facebook and Twitter and there were numerous death threats. The case has been taken to Crown Court after no plea was submitted.

3.) You're going to destroy America? You won't even step foot here.

Two British tourists were barred from entering the United States after joking on Twitter about 'destroying America' when they visited for a holiday. The two teenagers, Leigh Van Bryan and Emily Bunting, did not realize that U.S. law enforcement agencies were following their Twitter feeds.

The tweet in question stated:

'Free for a quick gossip/prep this week before I go and destroy America?x'

Not only this (although in the UK 'to destroy' also means 'to party'), but American agents also took umbrage concerning a tweet that followed -- joking that they planned to 'dig up Marilyn Monroe'.

Once the pair arrived in Los Angeles, in anticipation for a three-week holiday, they were held under armed guard and placed in cells overnight. Van Bryan said:

"It's almost funny now but at the time it was really scary. The Homeland Securityagents were treating me like some kind of terrorist. I kept saying they had got the wrong meaning from my tweet but they just told me 'you’ve really f***ed up with that tweet, boy'."

Result: The teenagers were interrogated for five hours on suspicion of planning to commit crimes, held overnight, and then sent back to Britain the following day. If they wish to return to the U.S., they must apply to London's U.S. embassy for visas. Apparently, they were also searched for shovels.

4.) The world of Trolling

Sean Duffy, 25, from Reading, Berkshire, posted hurtful remarks on pages set up in remembrance of girls who had died across Facebook. Taking advantage of 'anonymity' to troll online meant that Duffy,
even though he had never met any of the girls who had died, sent abusive messages and posted the remarks across multiple pages. He also reportedly repeated the same abusive behavior on tribute websites.

His victims included the family of Worcester teenager Natasha MacBryde who killed herself after being bullied. The specific charges brought against him were related to the 15 year-old, and involved both Facebook and YouTube posts.

Result: Duffy was jailed for 18 weeks for his online activity, and banned for 5 years from social networking sites.

5.) Facebook contempt of court

A female juror stood trial after being accused of contempt of court after she allegedly sent messages to a defendant through Facebook. This action caused a multi-million dollar drug trial to collapse.

As a first in the British legal system, the 40 year-old was prosecuted for exchanging messages on Facebook with one of the defendants she had been trying. Mrs.Fraill of Manchester was also accused of using the Internet to research the case, against the judge’s explicit orders.

The sentencing judge said her actions "constituted flagrant breaches of the orders made by the judge for the proper conduct of the trial."

Result: Fraill, a mother-of-three with three stepchildren, was jailed for eight months – spending last Christmas behind bars.


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