Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

Blissfully unaware of the Streisand Effect, A thin-skinned Illinois mayor chose to sic his city’s police force on some local citizens last week over a parody account that poked fun at him on Twitter.  The mayor was apparently upset that someone had created what was obviously a fake twitter persona, @Peoriamayor, and was tweeting about drug use and infidelity, and otherwise making stupid comments that anyone with an ounce of common sense would recognize as political satire. The mayor himself reportedly contacted his chief of police to report the situation, and, as you might expect, the chief was convinced that a crime had occurred.

Despite the the fact that the account’s creator had added a statement indicating the account was satirical, the chief reportedly said, “I don’t agree it was obvious [that the account was fake], and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor.” A warrant was requested, a judge signed off on it, and a raid of the account creator’s home ensued. Three people were taken into custody, and a small quantity of marijuana was found at the house.

Charges of impersonating a public official are pending.

In the wake of all this, a hilarious stream of fake Twitter accounts has been created, including @NotPeoriaMayor:

Not Jim Ardis (NotPeoriaMayor) on Twitter 2014-04-20 10-30-06

Aside from the First Amendment implications (satire is generally considered protected speech)–and the fact that Peoria’s mayor has made himself look like a petty, vindictive, bully (which he may well be)–the police have been drawn into what is arguably a political matter.  The mayor had other remedies he could have pursued, including just ignoring the inanity of it all, but instead chose to bring the power of the state, via law enforcement, against his political enemies. That’s hardly the ethos of a free and vibrant democracy.

Even outrageous speech by Larry Flynt, the pornography purveyor who famously lampooned Jerry Falwell by distributing a fake liquor ad implying that Falwell had a sexual encounter with his own mother in an outhouse, was deemed to be protected.

Falwellhustler

Short of libel or slander, parodies of public figures have long enjoyed free-speech protections. According to the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University:

Satire is a centuries-old type of literature that uses humor and imitation to attack and ridicule individuals’ moral and character flaws, such as vice, unfairness, stupidity or vanity. A parody is also an attack on folly, but it takes the form of a contemptuous imitation of an existing artistic production — usually a serious work of literature, music, artwork or film — for satirical or humorous purposes. Satire and parody have served for generations as a means of criticizing public figures, exposing political injustice, communicating social ideologies, and pursuing such artistic ends as literary criticism. Satirists usually find themselves subjected in turn to criticism, contempt and, sometimes, lawsuits. The First Amendment protects satire and parody as a form of free speech and expression.

And, according to the Supreme Court’s decision in Hustler Magazine versus Falwell, Justice Rehnquist wrote that:

The sort of robust political debate encouraged by the First Amendment is bound to produce speech that is critical of those who hold public office or those public figures who are “intimately involved in the resolution of important public questions or, by reason of their fame, shape events in areas of concern to society at large.” Associated Press v. Walker, decided with Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130, 164 (1967) (Warren, C. J., concurring in result). Justice Frankfurter put it succinctly in Baumgartner v. United States, 322 U.S. 665, 673 -674 (1944), when he said that “[o]ne of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures.” Such criticism, inevitably, will not always be reasoned or moderate; public figures as well as public officials will be subject to “vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks,” New York Times, supra, at 270. “[T]he candidate who vaunts his spotless record and sterling integrity cannot convincingly cry `Foul!’ when an opponent or an industrious reporter attempts [485 U.S. 46, 52]   to demonstrate the contrary.” Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy, 401 U.S. 265, 274 (1971).

Public officials definitely don’t have to like what other people say, but they have to allow it. When the government starts picking and choosing what speech it finds acceptable, and what it doesn’t, and then using force to squelch what it deems unacceptable, we’ve got a start on becoming just a more well-resourced version of North Korea.

Update (4/21/14): Popehat posted a very funny (and satirical, just to be clear) guest post from the Honorable Jim Ardis, mayor of Peoria, Illinois, that I just had to share.

Update (4/23/14): Well, the mayor came out swinging at a city council meeting Tuesday evening, accusing the press of “spinning” their coverage of what he insists was a legitimate attempt to “protect his identity.”  Meanwhile, members of the city council questioned the mayor’s actions and bemoaned the negative national attention they’ve brought to Peoria. You just can’t make this stuff up.

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Disclaimer: The below article makes reference to federal laws related to gun purchases. Please note that state gun laws vary, and you are well advised to seek expert assistance from an attorney knowledgeable of your state’s statutes regarding the ownership, possession, and/or transfer of firearms if you have questions before buying or selling. The below is not legal advice.

Time Magazine ran a somewhat hyperbolic article this week about the ability of Facebook users to arrange firearm purchases through the site’s messaging features (gasp!). The article’s breathless hook was that it was easier to purchase a gun on Facebook than it was to understand the site’s privacy settings (oh, the horror!), which is  not only misleading, but a misstatement of fact to boot.

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The implication was that nefarious individuals were using Facebook as a way to skirt gun laws, but the article provided scant evidence to support that assertion. And, as several commenters pointed out, it’s entirely legal to purchase guns from private citizens, as long as certain guidelines are followed.

None of those guidelines prohibit the use of online platforms to arrange a firearm sale.

According to the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms web site:

A person may sell a firearm to an unlicensed resident of his State, if he does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under Federal law.

Federal law is silent regarding how the sale is arranged or whether those arrangements can be made online, and there is no requirement that a background check be completed by private sellers under federal law. According to the ATF, federal law only prohibits the sale or transfer of a firearm to an individual who:

  • Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year;
  • Is a fugitive from justice;
  • Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
  • Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to a mental institution;
  • Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or an alien admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa;
  • Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced his or her citizenship;
  • Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner;or Has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence Cannot lawfully receive, possess, ship, or transport a firearm.

There’s no restriction — that I could find, at least — barring the use of online platforms to discuss or arrange a gun purchase. To suggest otherwise, or to imply that people are somehow buying guns directly through Facebook (which the article noted doesn’t offer an e-commerce capability anyway) would be factually inaccurate and, frankly, a little dumb.

Photo courtesy of nesoiam

Photo courtesy of nesoiam

The reality is that people all over the country frequently use the internet to search for and purchase firearms. A Google search for online gun stores returns millions of hits, including Armslist.com, which alone had 1.3 million unique visitors per month, as of August, 2012.

So, a more relevant and interesting point for debate might be the issue of universal background checks for all gun buyers, including those making a purchase from a private seller they met on a site like Facebook.

Gun control advocates argue that the lack of universal background checks allows unqualified or dangerous buyers to purchase firearms from private sellers. They argue that all purchases, whether through a licensed gun dealer or not, should be required to complete the same background process. They also note that:

…because federal law does not require universal background checks, “individuals prohibited by law from possessing guns can easily obtain them from private sellers and do so without any federal records of the transactions.”

The NRA, on the other hand, opposes such measures as an unnecessary restriction on the rights of law-abiding individuals to purchase weapons. They argue that most legal gun purchases are made through licensed dealers, who do background checks as a matter of course, or from family, friends, and acquaintances who should already know whether or not the buyer has some disqualifying characteristic.

In terms of how criminal offenders obtain guns, the NRA points to the problem of straw purchasers:

In 1985, the Department of Justice reported that only about one in five convicted felons obtained guns through legal channels such as retail stores. In 1991, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported that 37% of armed career criminals obtained firearms from street sales, 34% from criminal acts and associates, 8% from relatives, and only 7% from dealers and 6% from flea markets and gun shows.  More recently, a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of state prison inmates convicted of firearm crimes found that 79 percent acquired their firearms from “street/illegal sources” or “friends or family.” This includes theft of firearms, black market purchases of stolen firearms, and straw purchases. The survey also found that 12 percent obtained their firearms from firearm dealers (gun stores, pawn shops), while only 1.7 percent obtained firearms from anyone (dealer or non-dealer) at a gun show or flea market.  The FBI’s National Crime Information Center stolen firearm file contained over 2 million reports as of March 1995, and an annual average of 232,400 firearms were stolen between 2005 and 2010.  46.3% of firearms traced by the BATFE in relation to firearm trafficking investigations originate with straw purchasers.

Requiring private sellers, therefore, to conduct a background check would be needlessly burdensome and a waste of resources. The people least likely to comply with background checks are those who aren’t law-abiding in the first place. So, nothing is really gained by requiring such checks by private individuals conducting private sales.

Whether buyers and sellers connect on a social media site, through a web site designed specifically around firearms sales, or via some other online platform, hardly matters at all. If people are abiding by local, state, and federal laws, I can’t see why there’s concern about this happening on Facebook.

What are your thoughts?

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Another week, and yet another social media app has parents, school officials, and others concerned about its potential to facilitate cyber-bullying. Yik Yak is an app that lets people broadcast information to other users in their geographic area based on the GPS settings of the device being used. According to the Yik Yak site, users can:

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In other words, it’s like an amplifier that anonymously broadcasts your text messages to hundreds of people within a 5 mile radius around you in real time. Sounds like the perfect cyber-bullying tool to me.

But, never fear, the app’s creators forbid transmission of “any pornographic, obscene, offensive, threatening, harassing, libelous, hate-oriented, harmful, defamatory, racist, illegal, or otherwise objectionable material or content.” And, I’m certain everyone will abide by those terms.

The creators are also careful to point out that they are not responsible for material transmitted via their service:

Yik Yak, LLC is in no way responsible for user-generated content. Content posted on this app is subject to:

  • 1st Amendment: Freedom/Anonymity of speech is protected under the 1st Amendment
  • Communications Decency Act: “Operators of Internet services are not to be construed as publishers and thus not legally liable for the words of third parties who use their services”

I’m all for free speech, of course, but I’m also concerned that this particular app creates yet another vector for people to transmit harmful information about others in a way that completely skirts personal responsibility. One school in Missouri is already contending with the fallout from this particular app.

App creates cyber bullying concerns in Johnson County

What are your thoughts? Does this app go too far? What are parents doing to address this and prevent Yik Yak from being used as yet another tool to bully children?

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You’re being watched and recorded. Not necessarily by Big Brother or a store security camera either, but by your fellow citizens, armed with cell phones and an insatiable desire to capture something interesting on film.

The ubiquity of cell phones in modern society has put the power to record anything and everything into the hands of the masses. Assaults, shootings, police misconduct, and just about any other crime under the sun has likely been captured by the ever-present digital eye of the general public.

Some police departments have begun to harness the power of this social surveillance through programs, such as Eyewatch in Australia, that encourage citizens to upload crime videos to one of their 80 regional Facebook pages.

And it’s paying off. One suspect who saw his face on the Eyewatch page turned himself into police, rather than wait to be captured.

So, this week’s videos feature a roundup of cell phone vigilantes capturing all kinds of bad behavior on their cameras.

Click, kick back, and enjoy!

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Well, the 2014 Winter Olympics are in full swing, and — as I write this on Monday — they thankfully haven’t been marred by violence or terrorism as was feared might happen. Security is tight, of course, and there’s really little chance of any type of crime going undetected there, with the apparently notable exception of cyber-crime.

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Not only are the Sochi games the most technologically advanced ever, athletes and other visitors to the region are more likely than ever before to use their own personal technology during their stay, and to be targeted by both the Russian government and cyber-gangs as a result.

Even reporters aren’t immune to attack. Although some security researchers deny the report’s accuracy, Richard Engel, a correspondent for NBC news reported being hacked immediately upon logging into his devices in Russia:

Engel had American computer security expert, Kyle Wilhoit, set up two computers with fake identities and phony contact lists to see how long it would take to be hacked. Almost immediately, Engel received a suspicious email, which allowed the hacker access to his laptop.

Other security experts have warned that Russian cyber-criminals are indeed actively targeting visitors to the games, and that they even have access to cell towers in and around Sochi. According to one expert, though, the digital security concerns at these Olympics aren’t really that much different than past games:

“It’s the same as during the Beijing Games — the host government, private enterprise and individuals pose a big threat to people traveling to the Sochi Games, in respect to monitoring conversations on cell phones and intercepting texts and emails,” said one Olympic security contractor.

And, as other research companies point out, your digital security isn’t really safe from threats anywhere these days. Just as with pickpockets in the past, when large crowds gather and begin using their devices on unsecured public networks, the criminal element is going to take advantage of the opportunity.

So, whether you’re enjoying the games in person or are watching them on a public network here in the states, make sure to pay attention to your basic cybersecurity.

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Cyber-bullies come in all shapes and sizes, including, as it turns out, parents. This past week, someone posted the below photo (which was anonymized for this post) to a social media site that shows a child holding a handwritten sign about having to sell her iPod and donate the proceeds to a bullying organization.

There wasn’t much further explanation, other than the caption: “Mom catches daughter cyber-bullying,” but the obvious conclusion is that this was punishment, meted out by a parent, for the child’s bullying of someone else.

Bullying blur

Predictably, comments by those who viewed the picture ran the gamut, from constructive feedback to out and out trolling. Here are some examples:

How to teach your kid to not be a cyber bully: post a judgmental photo of her on the internet so people can see how bad she is.

It’s not like she regrets it, the only reason this is happening is because she got caught.

Children are little people; monstrous but small. They must be taught empathy to be socialized. Sometimes that’s through poetic justice.

Somehow I’m not convinced that she’s really kind or caring person.

Humiliating your child to teach her not to humiliate other children? Gee, I wonder where she gets it!

I hesitate to criticize a parent for doing what she thinks is best when it comes to disciplining her own child but, in my opinion, publicly shaming someone in this way goes beyond parenting and strays into its own unique form of cyber-bullying.

And, the consequences of bullying run deep. Psychological, physical, emotional, academic, and other consequences can result. Research even shows that both bullies and bullied children are more likely to engage in violence later in life.

So, there’s every reason to stop children from bullying one another. But, bullying your child to teach them not to bully is setting that child up for failure and even more problems down the line.

Have a safe weekend.

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It’s been a great first year, and I want to thank all of you for taking the time to read, post, comment, share, and otherwise support this blog. I especially want to thank Brittius.com for all the reblogs of our content and the comments they’ve shared over the past months. Much appreciated, friends. You can read their blog here.

Image courtesy of jannoon028 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jannoon028 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Our blog began simply as an information project, primarily to help my students. I referred them here for more info on topics that commonly came up in our discussions and the other work we were doing together. Not only was it helpful to them, and a springboard for further discussion and learning, but I soon found that other people were interested in these topics as well.

That lead to additional topics, some guest posts, experiments with different approaches, and even a shot at a podcast (I plan to revive that in the new year). We also upped the game with a new and improved research blog, also supported by the company that sponsors this blog – Æquitas Educational Services – and a new weekly news site for parents: Social Web Safety.

Our Blog — Æquitas Educational Services 2013-12-14 08-28-44

So, to wrap things up, I’ve pulled together the top ten posts from Crime & Justice in terms of views, comments, and reblogs for 2013. I look forward to another year of growth and experimentation in 2014, and we’ll continue striving to provide you with the types of content you’re seeking.

If you have suggestions, story ideas, or just some feedback you’d like to share, let me know. And, as always, please spread the word about our blog and what we’re up to.

Top Ten Posts of 2013
  1. How Many Innocent People are in Prison?
  2. Why do Non-violent Felons Lose the Right to Bear Arms?
  3. Female Sex Offenders – Hidden in Plain Sight?
  4. Compliance with Authority and The Strip Search Prank Call Scam
  5. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
  6. The Legal System’s Non-Response to “Revenge Porn” (Updated 11/7/13)
  7. Friday Crime Vids – The Failed War on Drugs
  8. Why Therapeutic Jurisprudence?
  9. Does Privacy Still Matter?
  10. Kratom – Wonder Drug or Potential Health Threat?

Thanks again, and have a happy and safe holiday season!

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One of our main goals has been to share quality information on criminal justice topics with as wide an audience as possible. This blog is just one channel for doing that. We’ve recently launched a new site to help parents navigate the challenges of keeping their family safe online: socialwebsafety.com.

Check it out and let us know what you think. If you like what you see, click “subscribe” and have it sent to your email inbox every week.

Social Web Safety 2013-12-07 09-04-18Keep your family safe by staying on top of all the latest trends, and problems, in the world of social media.

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Prefer to get your crime news in tiny, six-second sound bites? Or, like to capture video snippets of yourself breaking the law? Well, either way, Vine is definitely for you, then.

vine-logo

Even though it’s incredibly stupid to film yourself committing a crime, people do it anyway. Like the woman you’ve probably already seen running onto the field at the college world series. She paid $1500 for the privilege, and for her 15 minutes of fame.

But, hey, in the modern media age, 15 minutes is practically an eternity. Right?

Actually, hers was probably one of the more interesting crime Vines out there that I could find, despite its inherent vanity and inaneness. At least it tells a story, as opposed to most Vines that rapidly descend into chaotic, seizure-inducing jump cuts.

Predictably, Vines have also captured more serious offenses, such as an alleged rape in Chicago that’s still under investigation. Whoever filmed it should absolutely have intervened instead, of course, but at least there’s some evidence for the police to use in their investigation.

What follows, though, are some of the Vines I was able to find that had to do with crime, public safety, or something related. Some are NSFW due to language, but otherwise are pretty tame.

Enjoy!

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I’m no fan of Facebook, mainly for personal reasons related to privacy, but several stories this week have pointed out the creative ways individuals and agencies are using the platform to fight crime.

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The first case involves a man who created a fake Facebook profile on which he published a video he’d captured of his bike being stolen. After a few weeks of comments by Facebookers (and over 400 “Likes”), the alleged bike thief was caught on camera returning the bike to its rightful owner under the cover of darkness (videos at the link).

After the bike was returned, the owner posted the below comment to Facebook:

We woke up this morning to discover that the stolen bike had been returned. Not sure who or why, but your guess is as good as mine.

Having video footage of his alleged criminal behavior shared on social media might have had something to do with it. At any rate, chalk one up for an amateur Facebook sleuth.

The second case comes from Washington State, where a woman went undercover on Facebook to trick her ex into confessing to torching her car (video at the link). She, too, created a fake profile she then used to question her ex-husband, who was apparently oblivious to whom he was actually talking, until he reportedly admitted to the arson.

That, and cell phone data showing his location on the night of the crime, convinced the police to make the arrest.

Another case involved use of Facebook to capture vandals who damaged a restaurant.

News story

It’s not only civilians, but more and more local police departments around the world are getting in on the act, too, by creating profiles to interact with the public, get tips about local offenses, and otherwise share information.

Some departments are using Facebook as an electronic wanted poster, while others are using it as a new type of police blotter.

The Florence, Kentucky police department is using Facebook to post closed-circuit videos of some crimes, such as shoplifting, and claim they’ve solved at least 8 cases by this method.

News story

Still other departments are wading into social media looking for bad behavior before it occurs, including perusing adverts on Facebook for parties involving underage drinking, drug use, and violence. Police then show up to shut things down before they get out of hand.

News story

For better or worse, social media is forcing its way more fully into the mainstream everyday. Facebook appears to be empowering some people to respond proactively to their own victimization, while also giving the police new ways of detecting and combating crime.

If you’ve had any experiences along these lines, share your story below!

Have a safe weekend.

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