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When social media impacts the criminal process, P.1

As the use of social media has increased in recent years, we’ve been seeing a corresponding increase in the use of social media communications in the criminal process. This includes not only the use of social media communications in criminal prosecution, but also in law enforcement. Consider, for example, the recent case of a Lakeland woman who broadcasted herself driving home while intoxicated via the social media app Periscope.

The app allows users to live streams videos from anywhere in the world. In this case, the woman is said to have been on the town drinking prior to streaming footage of herself telling views she was “drunk,” that she had a flat tire, and that she was lost. At one point, she even said, “I really hope I don’t get a DUI.” In this case, officers were alerted to the situation by a viewer who had called 911, and were thereby able to determine her location and witness her driving the vehicle before 

In this case, social media was obviously instrumental in allowing officers to get an intoxicated driver off the street, but the question we would like to ponder is, what are the potential ramifications of using social media communications such as this in criminal prosecution? First of all, social media communications can and are used in criminal prosecution, and are subject to the same rules of evidence as other forms of electronic communications. That being said, there unique character of social media communications means that there are unique issues that can come up.

First of all, there are potential privacy protections that apply to social media communications. In our next post, we’ll take up this issue and what defendants need to be aware of when it comes to prosecutors using social media communications in their case.

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