Use of social network websites in investigations

Social network services are increasingly being used in legal and criminal investigations. Information posted on sites such as MySpace and Facebook has been used by police and university officials to prosecute users of said sites. In some situations, content posted on MySpace has been used in court to determine an appropriate sentence based on a defendant's attitude. [cite web | url= | title="TCourt Case Decision Reveals Dangers of Networking Sites" | date=2007-02-28 | accessdate=2007-03-07]


Facebook, a social network service, is increasingly being used by school administrations and law enforcement agencies as a source of evidence against student users. The site, a popular online destination for college students, allows users to create profile pages with personal details. These pages can be viewed by other registered users from the same school, including resident assistants, campus police, or others who have signed up for the service.

Recent disciplinary actions against students based on information made available on Facebook has spurred debate over the legality and ethics of school administrators' harvesting such information. Facebook's [ Terms of Use] specify that "the website is available for your personal, noncommercial use only," misleading some to believe that college administrators and police may not use the site for conducting investigations. However, Facebook spokespeople have made clear that Facebook is a public forum and all information published on the site should be presumed available to the general public, school administrators included. Legal experts agree that public information sources such as Facebook can be legally used in criminal or other investigations. [cite web | url= | title="The Facebook: not just for students" | date=2005-11-03 | accessdate=2006-10-14]

Alcohol policy violations

It has become increasingly common for colleges and universities to use Facebook to investigate underage drinking and violations of dry campus policies. Students who violate these policies may be discovered through photographs of illicit drinking behavior, membership in drinking-related groups, or party information posted on the Facebook website. Examples of such investigations include:

*In October 2005, pictures from Facebook were used to cite violators of university alcohol policy at North Carolina State University. Charges included underage drinking and violations of the dormitory alcohol policy, specifically holding open bottles of alcoholic beverages in the dorm hallway. A dorm resident advisor originally wrote up citations for 14 different students, some of which were dropped. Details were not released by the university, but the incident received news coverage including articles in the official school newspaper and segments on local TV stations. [ [ - News - NCSU Students Face Underage Drinking Charges Due To Online Photos ] ]

*In November 2005, four students at Northern Kentucky University were fined for posting pictures of a drinking party on Facebook. The pictures, taken in one of NKU's dormitories, proved that the students were in violation of the university's dry campus policy. [ [ The Northerner ] ]

* In November 2005, Emory University officials cited members of the Facebook group "Dobbs 2nd Alcoholics," referring to the second floor of a campus residence hall, for conduct code violations. A similar drinking group, "Wooddruff=Wasted," was also investigated. The group's club members only discussed "having fun in Wooddruff" and said no photos of students were ever posted on Facebook. [ [ Officials at institutions nationwide using Facebook site ] ]

* In response to the monitoring, some students have begun to submit "red herring" party listings. [ [ Facebook prank on police - Boing Boing ] ] In one case at George Washington University, students advertised their party and were raided by campus police. The police found only cake, no alcohol, and later claimed the dorm raid had been triggered by a noise complaint. [ [ How much cake is an inordinate amount? Because I can eat a lot of cake. CASE CLOSED. - CollegeHumor picture ] ]

Other investigations

*In December 2004, "The Student Life" (the student newspaper at Pomona College in Claremont, California) reported that an assistant football coach at the college had been living in the team's equipment room and hosting parties there. The paper cited postings by football players on a Facebook group page titled "We Miss Coach Baker" as evidence of the alleged parties. [ [ Football Coaches Living, Partying in Rains Equipment Room - The Student Life ] ]
*In October 2005, sophomore Cameron Walker was expelled from Fisher College in Boston for comments about a campus police officer made on Facebook. These comments, including the statement that the officer "loves to antagonize students...and needs to be eliminated," were judged to be in violation of the college's code of conduct. [ [ Fisher College expels student over website entries - The Boston Globe ] ]
*In November 2005, Kansas State University authorities announced that they were using Facebook to investigate a possible violation of the school's honor code potentially involving over 100 students. Students used the message board of a Facebook group to share class information without authorization from the professor. [ [] Dead link|date=March 2008]
*In October 2005, Pennsylvania State University police used Facebook to track down students who rushed the field after the October 8 Ohio State game. As of November 2005, two students have been charged with criminal trespass for their involvement. [ [ Site used to aid investigations ] ]
*In January 2006, Syracuse University's student newspaper, "The Daily Orange", featured an article about a student who claimed Syracuse City Police personally warned him in advance about having a party he had listed on Facebook. The university denied the allegations and stated that their own peace officers would have handled the case in any event. [ [ The Daily Orange ] ]

* Pictures posted of unrelated parties thrown by students at the University of Connecticut School of Law and Baylor University drew attention to the presence of uninstitutionalized racism on both campuses. In March 2006, Baylor’s student newspaper reported a call to action made by outraged students after pictures were posted on Facebook depicting partygoers wearing bandanas and carrying 40-ounce beer bottles wrapped in brown paper, with one young woman sporting layers of bronzer to darken her skin. An advisor for a campus fraternity denied the party was sponsored by the organization and said the party theme was not to dress "ghetto", as critics alleged, but as E-Dawg, a Seattle rapper. Facebook removed the photos from the site as black student groups called for a university-sponsored open forum to discuss the racially insensitive undercurrent on campus. [cite news
last =Amos
first =Meredith
coauthors =
title =Baylor U. students outraged by off-campus party
work =The Lariat
pages =
language =
publisher =
date =March 1, 2006
url =
accessdate =
] Similar action was taken with the UConn pictures, which depicted a “Bullets and Bubbly” themed party held days after Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2007. Half the partygoers brought champagne and dressed in formalwear for the “bubbly” portion of the theme, while the other half brought 40 ounces and dressed in do-rags, baggy hip-hop inspired clothing, gold teeth, and in some cases carried fake machine guns. The university responded by holding an open forum discussing the insensitive nature of the party and resulting photos. Controversy over similar parties has also occurred at Clemson University (South Carolina), Tarleton State University (Texas), Texas A&M University, and the University of Chicago. [cite news
last =Larsen
first =Lindsay
coauthors =
title =U. Connecticut law school party causes stir over stereotypes
work =The Daily Campus
pages =
language =
publisher =
date =February 2, 2007
url =
accessdate =

* In February 2006, "The Daily Orange" reported about another Syracuse University incident. In this incident, four SU students were placed on disciplinary probation after creating a group entitled "Clearly [instructor's first name] doesn't know what she's doing ever." The group featured derogatory and personal attacks aimed at the instructor. After meeting with judicial affairs, the students admitted that their comments on the site were inappropriate and accepted an agreement that they would not contact the instructor again. [ [ The Daily Orange ] ]

* In February 2006, Oxford police were directed to the Facebook profile of a Miami University student because it showed the police sketch of a suspect in the rape of another Miami University student as the account owner's personal picture. The police arrested the student and charged him with inducing panic. [ [ Miami Student ] ]

* Students that had created a Facebook group to complain about a professor's teaching shortcomings at the University of Louisville were responsible in part for dismissal of that instructor in February 2006. The students were not punished. [ [] Dead link|date=March 2008]

* In April 2006, University of Dayton student Christopher Herbert was fined approximately $10,000 for damages caused by an annual event known as "LowesFest." Herbert had posted a public invitation to the event on Facebook, though he did not attend the event himself. The University informed him 24 hours before "LowesFest" that he would have to pay for any and all extra costs (police, cleaning, etc.) stemming from that evening. However, Christopher Herbert chose to not pay the fine and he transferred out of the University of Dayton. [ [ Flyer News - Junior unfairly blamed for Lowesfest problems ] ]

* In August 2006, police officers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign arrested two students who were spotted urinating in public. One of the students ran, and the other was apprehended by police. When queried about the identity of the student who ran, the student in custody lied saying he did not know him. The arresting officer, upon talking with witnesses, obtained the name of the student who ran. He later found that the two were Facebook friends, and therefore that the questioned student had lied. This student was charged with obstruction of justice. [ [ Student arrested after police Facebook him - News ] ]

* In October 2006, a male Southern Illinois University student faced possible expulsion for creating a Facebook page detailing his sexual relationship with a young female he’d been involved with in the past. Other male students added to the page with their own experiences with the woman, until she brought it to the attention of Facebook administrators, who permanently removed the page. The 19-year-old female cited slander while the young man claimed it was an inside joke and assumed she would understand the humor. In an interview he stated, “I never thought something on Facebook would get me into trouble out in the real world.” During the debacle, his fellow students created yet another Facebook page with updates on the controversy. [ cite news
last =Jadhav
first =Adam
coauthors =Shane Graber
title =Students learning dangers of Web 'confession'; Sophomore may be expelled for Facebook page
work =The Record
pages =
language =
publisher =
date =October 5, 2006
url =
accessdate =

* In early January 2007, several Ottawa employees of Farm Boy were terminated due to their postings on a Facebook group titled "I Got Farm Boy'd." [ [ CANOE - CNEWS - Canada: Workers fired over Internet postings ] ]

* In January 2007, a long-standing debate over the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's dancing Chief Illiniwek mascot intensified after racist remarks about Native Americans were discovered on a pro-mascot Facebook group. The group, entitled "If They Get Rid of the Chief, I'm Becoming a Racist," contained wall posts by students that said things like, "What they don't realize is that there never was a racist problem before...but now I hate redskins and hope all those drunk casino owning bums die." Another student directed a post towards a particularly vocal Native American grad student, saying, "I say we throw a tomahawk into her face." [cite news
last =Mercer
first =David
coauthors =
title =University of Ill. Investigates threats against American Indian
work =Associated Press
pages =
language =
publisher =
date =January 10, 2007
url =
accessdate =
] The page was removed, but not before inciting a university investigation into the threats and spawning a counter group entitled “The Chief Dance is Racist, Plain and Simple.”

* In February 2007, 11 students at Robert F. Hall Catholic Secondary School in Caledon, Ontario were suspended after posting comments about their principal on Facebook. [ [ 11 Ontario students suspended for 'cyber-bullying' ] ]

* In February 2007, following the fatal hit-and-run death of freshman Carlee Wines, University of Connecticut campus police said they used Facebook to link the suspected driver, Anthony P. Alvino of Lindenhurst, N.Y., to the university. By following leads via Facebook, police learned of the connection between Alvino and his girlfriend, Michele A. Hall, a UConn student. [ [ Two Arrests Made - News ] ] The Long Island, N.Y. newspaper "Newsday" reported: "Police traced Alvino's connection to UConn through his entry in Facebook, which listed Hall as his girlfriend." [,0,2479015.story?coll=ny-linews-print] Alvino was charged for the hit-and-run, while Hall was charged with helping cover it up and hindering prosecution. [ [,0,4348643.story Topic Galleries - ] ]

*In April 2007, just days after the Virginia Tech shooting, a student at the SUNY College at Cobleskill was remanded into psychiatric care and suspended from college after posting a photo of himself on his profile with a vaguely threatening message underneath. [ [ Facebook, Guns & the Virginia Tech Fallout - Offbeat ] ]

tudent government

* In October 2005, University of Pennsylvania freshmen student government election results were delayed due to early campaigning violations on Facebook. Though candidates were forbidden from campaigning before a certain date, many Facebook advocacy groups appeared before that date. The University of California, Berkeley, High Point University, and The George Washington University have also experienced similar problems. [ [] Dead link|date=March 2008]


Some examples of MySpace-based issues in the legal system: [] [] [,myspace-superworm-creator-sentenced-to-probation-community-service.aspx] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [,8599,1207043,00.html] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] Further investigations are reported by the blog [ MyCrimeSpace] .

ee also

* List of social networking websites


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