Social media charges and prosecutions

Just how far is social media monitored, and what examples are there of convictions based upon it?
By Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
1 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

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 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

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.


To watch the footage, click here. (Warning: May be found offensive)


3 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

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, 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 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

A 32-year-old Utica man cyberbullied a Clinton Township cop who gave him a traffic ticket.

Jeremy Wakeman used Facebook and Craigslist postings to write messages and comments taunting officer Michael Allis, and encouraged others to do the same in the days after he received a traffic ticket for a bad turn.

He created a fake Facebook profile under the alias "Mikey Allis" and attempted to friend at least 10 of Allis' Facebook contacts. The profile picture was an avatar of a pig, and some of the statuses included:

  • Hi my name is Officer Mikey Allis and I love pickle juice. Yum yum c***'
  • '(Allis) didn't go to high school I got my ged.'
  • A message to Allis said, 'How are ya dick? Hope u have a s - day tmw.'

Wakeman was then arrested for the online abuse.

Result: Wakeman pleaded guilty and received two years' probation in a deal with prosecutors -- although the offence could have landed him up to nine months in jail. He was also issued a no-contact order and to undergo a mental evaluation.


5 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

Paul Chambers found himself arrested by UK police after joking about bombing an airport over Twitter.

Due to snow, the Robin Hood airport in South Yorkshire had to close. In annoyance, Chambers commented on Twitter:

"You've got a week and a bit to get your s*** together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high."

Consequentially, the 26 year-old found himself arrested and later charged by police with of using communications networks to send a threatening message.The message was reported to police by another Twitter member.

Result: He was arrested, had his laptop, iPhone and home computer confiscated, and was banned from Robin Hood airport for life.

6 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

In 2011, a video was posted to YouTube that recoded a fight among several teenagers in Nanaimo. In the video, you can see a dozen witnesses who stand by as four girls fight in a shopping mall. At one point in the recording, two girls alternatively punch and kick a girl lying on the ground.

The footage, hosted on the public streaming site, was later forwarded to Nanaimo RCMP. The girls involved in the footage were between 14 and 15 years old. Police believe the girls lured the 15-year-old victim to a mall parking lot some time in the last week of March and took turns attacking her. The fight was believed to be the result of a dispute fuelled by accusations on Facebook.

Result: The girls were identified through the footage and the police became involved. RCMP recommended that two of the teenage girls from Nanaimo be charged with assault

To watch the video: here.



7 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

A Florida woman was arrested after a YouTube video surfaced, showing her encouraging her 16 year-old daughter to fight during a confrontation with another teenage girl.

During the video, you can hear the mother telling her daughter: 'Don’t f***ing stop'.

According to reports, the woman, April Newcomb, told police after her subsequent arrest:

"Of course, we're both wrong and I understand that, and I understand where y'all are coming from. I think unfortunately it was going to happen, no matter what."

Result: Newcomb was charged with child abuse. The punishment was 75 hours of community service and a one-day parenting class.  


8 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

Dharun Ravi, 19, was accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate, Tyler Clementi, 18, in a charge described as a ‘hate crime’. Days after Clementi's homosexual encounter with an older man was captured and streamed on webcam by his former roommate, the student committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in New York.

The incident took place in September 2010. A group of students viewed the footage on a computer, which consequentially resulted in gossip and rumors spreading through the dorm.

Ravi shared the 'viewing' details on social networking site Twitter, returning to continue the story when Clementi again requested room privacy for a few hours with tweeted updates.

Result: The former Rutgers University student was found guilty of multiple charges and faces up to ten years in jail, as well as possible deportation back to India when he is sentenced in May.

9 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

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.


10 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

Marianne A. Oleson of Oshkosh, Wis., was arrested after selling fraudulent Facebook shares.

Arrested for fraud, Oleson, 46, found herself in trouble after several men came forward and reported her to law enforcement for offering fake private stock in the social networking site in 2011. She claimed she owned $1 million of the stock as her daughter went to school with the founder, Mark Zuckerberg. In other tales, her daughter was friends with the girlfriend of the Facebook tycoon.

According to authorities, some men fell for it -- resulting in cash trades of $10,000 - $28,000 for the fictional stock. As ‘proof’, Oleson used a document she had received when she contacted a legitimate owner of 65,000 shares of private Facebook stock, pretending interest in purchasing $1 million worth of stock from the company -- and then changing a few words.

Result: 33 fraud and drug-related felony charges and one misdemeanor drug charges were brought against her in Winnebago County Circuit Court. Her bond was set at $50,000.  


11 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

In Saudi Arabia, 23-year-old journalist Hamza Kashgari faces charges of blasphemy after publishing three tweets about an imagined meeting with Muhammad:

  • On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.
  • On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.
  • On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you've always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.

The reaction was explosive. Kashgari reportedly received thousands of responses and multiple death threats, resulting in the young journalist deleting the tweets in question and issuing an apology. However, this was not enough, and Kashgari was promptly arrested.

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Azeez ibn Abdullaah Aal ash-Shaikh, issued a fatwa against Twitter in response, which he told 'real Muslims' to avoid as a 'platform for trading accusations and for promoting lies'.

Result: Ongoing, with the possibility of the death sentence.  


A Facebook page was created in retaliation, 'liked' by those who took the opposite view and wished for his execution. It has currently reached over 26,000 followers.



12 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

Two men from the United Kingdom attempted to incite trouble in last year’s London riots in August using social media.

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, were charged with 'illegal online activity' in court after trying to 'encourage violence and riot activities' through the social networking site Facebook.

Blackshaw setup an event called 'Smash Down in Northwich Town' for the night of 8 August. He was arrested at the meeting point outside a McDonald restaurant after no-one except the police decided to turn up.

Sutcliffe-Keenan used his Facebook account on the 9 August to create a web page entitled 'The Warrington Riots'. According to prosecutors, the page caused people within the town to panic.

In the morning, nursing a hangover, he removed the page and apologized -- saying it was just a joke. No rioting broke out as a result, and yet he was promptly arrested.

Result: Both men received four-year jail terms in a young offenders facility. A 16 year-old boy was also prosecuted but escaped with a referral order.  



13 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

A Chinese woman was arrested on the day of her wedding after she re-tweeted a satirical post that mocked anti-Japanese protesters.

The message that mocked the protesters was a re-tweet from her then fiancée -- to which she added the words 'Angry youth, charge!'. Ten days later, she was taken into custody. Cheng Jianping was then convicted of 'disturbing social order' by police.

Result: Cheng Jianping was sentenced to a year in a labour camp.  



14 of 14 Charlie Osborne/ZDNET

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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