Facebook Death Threat Highlights Communications Hazards

Posted August 16, 2011 in Criminal Law by Arthur Buono

Everybody should know that what you post to Facebook or other social networks can come back to haunt you. Employers screen for bad attitudes, insurers screen for risky behaviors, police are even mining Twitter for clues to crime. Sometimes, what’s posted to Facebook is a crime itself. Two Philadelphia residents found this out when they were charged in connection with a death threat made on Facebook.

     
  • Offer and acceptance to commit murder posted to Facebook
  • Pair charged with solicitation, conspiracy and attempted murder
  • Perfectly innocent and well-intended postings also may work against you
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Some Posts Cause Embarrassment, Others Break the Law

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A woman said she’d pay $1,000 to have the father of her child killed. A man responded, offering to do the job and seeking details about the victim. The woman’s been charged with solicitation of murder. The man’s been charged with attempted murder, conspiracy and possession of a weapon. Threats made via social networks or elsewhere online may be crimes just as if made in person.

How such statements are intended and received may decide whether they amount to a crime. A California court, for example, just ruled that a law criminalizing threats to witnesses is valid if a reasonable person would take the threat seriously. In any case though it’s important to think how others would view your comments before you make them.

Innocent and even thoughtful Facebook posting can also cause grief. For example, if you were to comment about your use of a certain medication on a drug company’s Facebook page, this might give away important, private medical information about you. That information might be used against you by an insurance company, warns a consumer privacy advocate.

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