The Dangers of Posting Incriminating Information to the Internet

Posted May 31, 2011 in Internet Law by

I was fascinated over the weekend by the story of Rep. Anthony Weiner (Dem-NY). On Friday, someone allegedly sent a tweet from Weiner’s Twitter account to the account of a college student in Seattle. The tweet, which was presumably meant to be private but instead was visible to the world, included a link to a lewd photo.

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The story caught my attention because it seemed to evolve on a minute-by-minute basis. Did a married politician send an inappropriate message to a much younger woman – and do it publically? Or was Weiner’s Twitter account hacked, as he claimed in a later tweet? Or, as DailyKos suggested, the entire thing was a hoax pulled off by some of Weiner’s enemies? After all, they were the only ones who claimed to have seen the original tweet or the photo, both of which seem to have "disappeared" (if they ever existed in the first place).

I personally think Weiner was set up, but even if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be the first politician whose career was cut short after damaging use of the internet.

Even if you have no political aspirations, what you post on the internet can come back to haunt you both personally and professionally.

Take, for example, the ambulance worker who was fired after negative postings about her boss on Facebook. She challenged her firing though the National Labor Relations Board, which forced the company to revise some of its rules regarding employees’ activities when not at work. And the worker ultimately reached a settlement with the company. Sure, she was possibly vindicated. But imagine what happens when a potential employer does an internet search before hiring her? Would you want to hire someone who has a history of publicly complaining about her job and her employer?

Or what about the Grand Rapids, Mich., man who posted pictures of his wedding to Facebook? The only catch: He was already married and his first wife saw the photos. She turned him into authorities and he was arrested, charged with polygamy.

Then there’s the story of the 11 high school athletes in Massachusetts. These kids, who presumably thought they were cool, posted photos to Facebook in which they were pictured with alcohol and tobacco. Student athletes at the school were supposed to lead by example, and school administrators didn’t like the example they were setting. The kids were suspended from athletics and required to attend meetings with school officials and their parents.

Common Sense Tips

It seems like common sense but it pays to think twice before posting inflammatory, dumb or potentially illegal stuff to the internet. Ask yourself:

  • Could this post damage my reputation? If I am posting something anonymously, am I doing so because I wouldn’t want to be publicly associated with this post?
  • Am I doing anything illegal, or advocating illegal activity, in this post?
  • Could this post damage the reputation of my school or employer?
  • Could it damage the reputation of my friends and family?
  • If a potential employer sees this in the future, would this post cause them to question whether to hire me?

If you’re a parent, it’s also important to talk to your children about the do’s and don’ts of posting information to the internet. It’s just one of the many life lessons to teach them.

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