A Cautionary Tale

Caution

Social Media is a fundamental aspect of modern existence. It encompasses a range of services not only limited to Twitter and Facebook. It defines our generation more than any other phenomenon or technological development.

But the Good Lord never saw fit to give Man the inspiration to invent something that a dumb nigga couldn’t mess up.

This post is a cautionary tale to those out there. With great power comes great responsibility.

Our characters:

Melvin Colon: gang member, drug dealer, all around bad-guy . . . and Facebook user.

Unnamed individual: Cooperating witness, Facebook “friend” of Melvin.

“Fuck Mark Zuckerberg”

Melvin Colon, or “MellyMel Balla” as his Facebook profile states, is your standard hooligan. Nefarious member of a gang in the Bronx in New York City. Though Mr. Colon fancied himself the modern-day Tony Montana, he, much like the rest of us, was bitten with the social media bug. Melvin had a Facebook page, much the same as the 500 million other users out there. Some things on his page are “private,” some he shares with “friends,” and some things he shares with “friends of friends.” Well, Melvin here was involved with criminal activity, including violence and alleged crack dealing.

Our unnamed cooperating witness is just one of the lucky few “friends” of Melvin with whom the criminal mastermind shared details of gang retaliations. Our anonymous informant just-so-happened to be working with federal prosecutors. Since the intimate details of the illegal activity Melvin was carrying out – but felt compelled to share via Facebook – was only shared with his “friends,” our anonymous informant allowed the Feds to view Melvin’s page after our informant accessed it. The information gleaned from this access was then used to support a search warrant which in turn yielded enough evidence to indict Mr. Colon.

Our villain, however, felt his constitutional rights had been violated. He filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from his Facebook pursuant to the 4th Amendment. That amendment protects the individual from “unreasonable searches and seizures” without probable cause. Melvin’s argument was that when the Government viewed his page with the help of the cooperating witness, his rights were infringed and therefore the fruits of that knowledge – the eventual warrant – was illegal.

There is only one problem with our Kingpin’s legal reasoning: long-established 4th amendment jurisprudence. The prevailing law behind searches is that a search only occurs where 1) the individual has a reasonable, subjective, and actual expectation of privacy that 2) would be validated by the public at large. When both of these conditions are met, and the Government or its agents pry without probable cause, the fruits of the search must be suppressed. You may be thinking “But Blog-writer guy, when I set my Facebook profile settings to “private” everyone knows I expect my profile to be just that – private.” This thinking begs the question that with the pervasiveness of social media, where people are sharing everything from their personal opinion of the food at the local sports bar, to their most personal thoughts, what is truly private anymore in our modern world?

The answer here lies in the fact that when you voluntarily disclose to another person, whether in-person, on the phone, or with a Facebook friend, something, even if it’s extremely personal, or blatantly illegal like in the case of our villain Melvin, you forfeit any expectation of privacy. This is why an informant can wear a wire while he participates in your illegal gang meeting and the police can use the recording. And sadly this is why the police could legally use the evidence furnished by the Facebook “friend” of Melvin Colon.

The takeaway here, whether you are a nefarious character [who happens to read a blog about Black America] or just a young profesional looking to climb the corporate ladder, is not to share on the Internet anything you wouldn’t have a problem sharing with the entire world: your Momma, your Pastor, or the local police department.

It really would be better to only post pictures of yourself eating money on Facebook, Black people.

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