What You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You: Personal Rights and Social Media

Recently in Aurora, Colorado, a young man put on Facebook that he had hit a vehicle when he was drunk and didn’t stop at the scene of the crime. Within 20 minutes of him posting on Facebook, two of his Facebook friends had called local cops, and he was arrested. On the one hand, this is great. He committed a crime and he should be punished. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure the teenager was aware that by posting on Facebook that he committed the crime he had just waived his First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights, especially his Fifth Amendment right to self-criminalization.

In another case, a young woman put up on Facebook that she hoped Obama was dead and that if somebody shot him, she wouldn’t cry. Within a day, the Secret Service had her identified. They contacted her, contacted her boss, and she was fired from her job. She of course claimed she had done nothing wrong, but in this country, threats to the president are taken very seriously. You can call him an idiot. You just can’t threaten to kill him.

We are at a point in history where technology is absolutely astounding, and the pace at which it changing is more astounding still. A problem with that is the fact that culturally we can’t keep up with these changes. Up until a few decades ago, a photo was just a physical photo that contained no additional data, and to the consumer it is still seen this way. However, digital photos contain a wealth of data including the date, time, and location of the photo, and much more. Our brains just haven’t caught up with how powerful these technologies really are. And in the law enforcement space, our laws have not caught up with technology. They’re very happy to keep the old laws on the books, not let them get updated, and they’re certainly not advocating for change; that would make their lives more difficult. But in the process, they are destroying our civil rights at a global level.

Right now, we have a fairly decent government and a fairly open society. That may not always be the case. And if we don’t safeguard our First Amendment rights of free speech from the government and our Fifth Amendment rights to not self-incriminate, 10, 15, 20 years down the road, our kids will not have First and Fifth Amendment rights at all.

Everything is going online and in a number of cases globally, rights people have in the real world about being able to say what they want, especially in this country, are not applying to cyber space. Things you can say in the real world: “I hate my boss. I hate my job. My company is full of morons.” In the real world, you can say that. Cops won’t haul you to jail, at least in the United States, for saying that. On the internet, if you say that, you can be fired. Lots of people have been fired for making those kinds of statements, which are innocuous in the real world but not innocuous in an online forum. As participants in social media, it’s time to lobby for laws that protect us and give us the same rights that we have in the real world.