For the most part, people use these sites for legitimate, innocent purposes like entertainment, staying in touch with friends, and keeping up with the news. Unfortunately, some people, even teenagers, are using social media websites to commit serious crimes.
In 2007, Anthony Stancl, a student at New Berlin Eisenhower High School in Wisconsin, created a Facebook account. Only he didn’t use his name - or gender. Rather, he created 16-year-old "Kayla."
Through Kayla, Stancl tricked dozens of his male classmates to send him nude pictures of themselves. Later, Stancl told them if they refused to have sex with a male friend - namely Stancl, who, it turns out, is gay - the pictures would be posted on the internet for the world to see.
Many victims gave in - Stancl filmed some the sexual activities on his cell phone, and hundreds of pictures of underage males, some as young as 15, were later found on his computer.
Stancl was charged with several crimes, including repeated sexual assault of the same child, possession of child pornography, and sexual assault. He faced 30 years in prison. As part of a plea bargain, he was convicted of two felonies: repeated sexual assault of the same child and sexual assault.
On February 2010, Stancl, who's now 19 years old, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
As shocking as Stancl's story is, it's not the only example of how Facebook and other social media sites are being used for criminal activities. In 2010, for instance, for instance:
- A "militia group" in Michigan preparing for war against the "antichrist" and planning to kill law enforcement personnel, posted military-style video footage on YouTube, apparently to raise awareness and recruit members. Several members of the militia were arrested in an FBI raid in March of 2010
- Colleen LaRose, more popularly known as "Jihad Jane," used the internet, and particularly Facebook, to recruit men and women from all over the world to "wage violent jihad" and engage in various acts of terrorism
Because the internet is global and in practically every household around the world, it's easy for people to connect - for good reasons and bad.
The Police Are "Hip," Too
Local police and federal agents know about the internet, too, especially social media sites. They use them, but not so much for entertainment. They use them as tools to solve crimes and prevent others from happening at all. No crime's too small, either. For example:
- Local police have used social media web sites to lure persons suspected of underage drinking or wanted for unpaid traffic or parking tickets to come to the police station, where they're arrested
- Federal authorities used Facebook to track a fugitive wanted for bank fraud. Maxi Sopo was using the website to post updates about how much fun he was having in Mexico. He was arrested and held by Mexican police until he could be returned to the US for trial
- Italian police located and arrested one of that country's most wanted criminals, mafia crime boss Pasquale Manfredi. How? He was using Facebook so often police were able to track his computer signal to his hideout in Southern Italy
What You Can Do
The first word of advice is, of course, don't commit a crime - whether it's over the internet or not.
Aside from those words of wisdom, anyone who uses social media websites should know that someone you may not want to talk to is looking at or reading what you're posting on the internet. The cyber world isn't a safe haven for you to talk about or plan criminal activities - it's that simple.
Parents of teenagers, like Anthony Stancl, should know what social media websites your children are using and visiting. Don't be shy or bashful, either. Go to their personal pages on Facebook and MySpace and see what they're up to. It's better to stop improper activities before your child ruins the rest of his life.
Everyone else: If you see or suspect criminal activities while you're surfing the net, report it immediately to federal or your local police.
No one can deny the fact that the internet is useful and entertaining. But, only so long as it's used properly by us all.
Questions For Your Attorney
- What should I do if I suspect someone in my family is committing a crime over the internet?
- I think by son is being bullied by classmates through email and social websites. What can I do? Are they committing a crime?
- Can the police confiscate my computer if they think my child has been using it to commit crimes?