Police Take to Social Media for Investigations
When Austin school district police announced this month they had arrested several people in a gang beating, they said the case was broken by a video posted online, an example of how school district police are increasingly monitoring social media to investigate crimes.
Kids post irresponsible stuff online all the time. Just search YouTube and you can find videos of teenagers getting drunk. Or fighting in front of the school bus. Or spray painting graffiti on public transit, and on and on.
“We take advantage of social media like everybody else does,” said Eric Mendez, a captain with the Austin ISD police force.
“People utilize YouTube all the time,” Mendez said. “They want to see what was the latest street fight. And so they do searches. Well, so do we.”
Most recently, Austin ISD police arrested eight people, four of them high school students, for that gang initiation beating in Pflugerville. They found out about it from a video posted on Facebook.
There are similar cases all over the country. Two weeks ago, a group of teenagers in Chicago were arrested for beating a classmate and posting the video online.
While those cases may seem clear cut, some legal scholars worry about kids misrepresenting themselves for an online audience.
“A kid poses as a gangster. Or a kid wants to be seen as tough. And so they posture in certain ways on these sites,” said Jennifer Laurin, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
“That is the kind of information that when you put in the context of a criminal investigation or a trial before a jury, contexts that kids don’t think about in their future, it can be incredibly damning, even for the kid who isn’t really a gangster, isn’t really violent,” Laurin said. “They just wanted to be seen as cool by their friends.”
Research suggests parents are taking an increasingly active role in guiding their kids’ use of social networks. A November study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that one-third of parents had checked to see what information about their teen is available on the internet.
The report also said that more than half of teens decided not to post something online because they were concerned it might reflect badly on them in the future.