Uh-oh, you might wanna think twice before posting those party pictures on Facebook:
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student Adam Bauer has nearly 400 friends on Facebook. He got an offer for a new one about a month ago. “She was a good-looking girl. I usually don’t accept friends I don’t know, but I randomly accepted this one for some reason,” the 19-year-old said.
He thinks that led to his invitation to come down to the La Crosse police station, where an officer laid out photos from Facebook of Bauer holding a beer — and then ticketed him for underage drinking.
He was among at least eight people who said Wednesday they had been cited for underage drinking based on photos on social networking sites. [LaCrosse-Tribune]
First things first, there’s certainly nothing good to be said about these sorts of law-enforcement tactics. Police always have better things to do than roam the Internet looking for pictures of naughty college kids and there’s no excuse for invading people’s privacy to make a couple petty arrests. The very notion of officers assuming fake identities on Facebook is just inherently repugnant and serves only to destroy their relationship with the very people they’re supposed to be protecting.
That said, it’s also worth keeping in mind that you have a 5th Amendment right not to post incriminating pictures of yourself on Facebook. It’s just an unfortunate reality that police do creep around on the web an awful lot for no particularly good reason and you never know where their prying eyes might land. This means you should think about what you’re posting, and keep an eye out for other people incriminating you as well. Simply untagging yourself from a couple questionable photos could be all it takes to save you a huge hassle down the road.
In my experience, this issue goes beyond what may or may not have taken place in one photo on one particular night. I’ve known people who got passed over for a job because their prospective employer found unflattering photos online. Worse, I know of instances in which online photos were used to attack someone’s character in an otherwise unrelated criminal case. The bottom line is that posting pictures online has much broader implications than simply showing your friends what a kick-ass weekend you had.
Finally, remember that if you’re ever confronted with a photo that shows you in a compromising situation, you don’t have to incriminate yourself. Rarely will the photo itself be sufficient evidence to convict you of anything. What they’re really looking for is the confession that they hope will come spilling out of your mouth after they show you what they’ve got. If you keep your mouth shut and ask for a lawyer, chances are they’ve got nothing.