Can a social media post be a crime?

The United States Supreme Court ruled that a social media post can be a crime scene. Prosecutors are aggressively pursuing internet crimes. It takes a savvy, experienced, and tenacious lawyer to turn the tables and get the advantage in court.

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Free Speech, Social Media, and Criminal Charges

As far back as 1964, in the case of New York Times v Sullivan, the United States Supreme Court addressed the issue of free speech and debate of public issues. The Court said, “We consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” The justices of that time had no idea exactly how uninhibited expression would become with the advent of the Internet. The question facing courts today is whether a social media post can be a crime.

In December 2014, the current United States Supreme Court heard the case of Elonis v United States. This case involved a man convicted of posting things on Facebook that prosecutors treated as actual threats. Mr. Elonis was convicted and sentenced to 44 months in prison.

The United States Supreme Court has already been clear that the 1st Amendment does not permit the government to punish all threats made in the media or the “public square.” There must be actual threats, not just political rhetoric or vehement and caustic attacks. A genuine threat has been defined as “those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”

Elonis v United States is a hugely important case in this age of social media. It will clarify what it means to communicate when speaking in terms of violence on the Internet and also what constitutes intent to commit the crime of making an illegal threat in a social media post. Depending on the facts of a case, top criminal defense lawyers work to defend their clients based on facts and the law. In these cases, persuading a judge that a social media post is not a threat can be key to getting charges dismissed.

How Can a Social Media Post Constitute a Crime?

The use of social media can facilitate various types of crimes, often exploiting the platform’s reach and anonymity. Here are some notable examples:

  • Cyberbullying and Harassment: Social media provides an easy avenue for bullying and harassment, often targeting individuals based on their appearance, beliefs, or behaviors. This can include threats, spreading lies, sharing private information, or other forms of online abuse.
  • Identity Theft and Fraud: Social media can be used to gather personal information about individuals, which can then be exploited for identity theft. Scammers may also create fake profiles to deceive others into providing personal or financial information.
  • Intellectual Property Theft: Sharing or distributing copyrighted material without permission, such as music, movies, and books, is common on social media platforms.
  • Hate Crimes and Incitement: Social media can be a platform for spreading hate speech and inciting violence against specific groups based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or other characteristics.
  • Sextortion and Revenge Porn: Individuals may use social media to threaten or coerce others into sending explicit images or videos, or they may share such content without consent as an act of revenge or humiliation.
  • Phishing and Scams: Fraudulent schemes, like phishing, where users are tricked into clicking malicious links or divulging sensitive information, are often propagated through social media.
  • Drug Trafficking and Illegal Sales: Social media platforms can be used for the illegal sale and distribution of drugs, weapons, or other contraband.
  • Terrorist Activities and Propaganda: Terrorist groups sometimes use social media to recruit members, spread propaganda, or coordinate attacks.
  • Stalking and Privacy Violations: Social media can make it easier for individuals to stalk or monitor others without their knowledge or consent, leading to privacy invasions.
  • Child Exploitation: Unfortunately, social media can also be used to exploit children, whether through grooming, sharing exploitative material, or other predatory behaviors.

These crimes illustrate the darker side of social media, highlighting the need for users to be vigilant and for platforms to enforce robust security and moderation policies.

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Your Mother Was Right – be careful what you post online.

Social media is fun and a great way to keep in touch with your family and friends. There is the ability to share everything you are involved in and your feelings about things going on in your life. However, there is a dark side to social media. Is this potentially dangerous? Yes. Posting too much information can result in being subjected to online predators. Posting party pictures or nude photographs can be hugely embarrassing or result in not getting or losing a job or custody of children, among other things. Can a social media post constitute a crime? At this point, there is no definitive answer. Your mother was right. If you think a posting is questionable – it probably can result in a criminal investigation, and you should perhaps not post it.

When you find yourself contacted by law enforcement as part of an investigation into an alleged crime committed on the internet or through social media, it’s crucial to consider hiring a criminal defense lawyer proactively, on a pre-charge basis. The digital landscape of social media is complex and often misunderstood, making it easy for individuals to unwittingly incriminate themselves, even when innocent. An experienced lawyer can provide crucial guidance and representation from the outset, ensuring your rights are protected during the investigation. They can help you understand the nature of the allegations, the potential charges, and the legal processes involved. Early legal intervention is critical in internet-related cases, where digital evidence plays a key role and needs to be handled correctly. A defense attorney can also act as an intermediary between you and law enforcement, helping to prevent miscommunication and ensuring that any interaction with the authorities is respectful and dissuades them from filing charges. This proactive approach not only helps in navigating the complexities of the law but can also significantly impact the outcome of the case, sometimes even preventing charges from being filed. Remember, with internet and social media crimes, what you do or say before charges are filed can be just as important as your defense after charges are laid.

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LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. are Michigan criminal defense lawyers who are specialists in internet-related criminal offenses. Criminal law is all our attorneys do. We appear in courtrooms all over Michigan, and our reputation for providing the highest level of criminal defense is well-known throughout Michigan. Criminal defense lawyers can come in varying degrees of experience. When facing possible loss of freedom or lengthy probation, you need to have the best legal team available. The attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. are well respected and get exceptional results for our clients.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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