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Business - Written by on Thursday, July 31, 2008 18:04 - 2 Comments

My space: It’s 4 x 6 with bars

After reading Ian’s post last week about how in the new age of connectivity the lines between what is work related and what is personal are not only blurred, I was reminded of an article along the same subject line. The article discusses several court cases in the US involving young people charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol. In these cases, prosecutors have accessed the defendants’ Facebook and Myspace pages and made sentencing agreements and recommendations based on the perceived behavior of the defendants in the photos posted on the sites.

In one case, a defendant was sentenced to two years in prison rather than probation because between her DUI arrest and conviction, pictures were posted to her Myspace page showing her to be holding a glass of wine and joking about drinking. Distasteful, but not illegal. According to the prosecutor this photo evidence showed a sufficient lack of remorse on the part of the defendant and therefore warranted a harsher sentence.

This article very neatly describes what could become a very slippery legal slope. I bet that most of us have at some time or another heard about a case in which we were sure that the accused was guilty and had the thought that prosecutors should do whatever it takes to achieve a conviction. But there is something about prosecutors using photos accessed from social networking sites to secure a conviction that seems a little too ‘Big Brother-esque’ to make me comfortable with it.

I do not condone the behavior of the individuals mentioned in this article or others like them. But, I find it to be pretty scary to think that one’s innocent actions — irrespective of any bad taste — could be manipulated or misinterpreted so that they become sinister, even damning. It is important to remember that although a picture may be worth a thousand words those words often only make sense within a certain context.

The idea that a prosecutor may be able to paint the context of these pictures so clearly when they technically have nothing to do with the crime committed is frightening. In a world of transparency, where someone’s indescretions can be easily broadcast for all to see, is context lost? If it is, what right do we have to pass judgment on them?


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Dan Thornton
Aug 1, 2008 5:00

I’m amazed that any judge or court has accepted a photo or video on Facebook or Myspace as a judgement on remorse.

For starters, it’s a public-facing arena, so people might be portraying themselves differently to their peers. And how can an out of context image taken at a public gathering be seen as a sign of how remorseful someone actually is?

I’m very against drink driving, but I’m not sure how the evidence is justified in this case, unless it’s supported by witnesses or psychological reports.

John Watson
Sep 29, 2008 5:30

I don’t understand how a photo of someone holding a glass of “wine” or beer or a mixed drink can incriminate. It does not prove consumption. If someone is told by the court not to drink, visit an establishment which serves alcolhol. If this criminal shows up on facebook holding a drink, how can this prove anything. Point a camera at anyone (most anyone) and they do things possibly out of character, is this grounds for dismissal? loss of scholarship? I am in the middle of something similar and firmly believe that this is going too far as it pertains to prove or guilt and anyone is grabbing for straws if they resort to searching facebook for so-called evidence to incriminate. Unbelievable.

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