Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wikipedia: Use of Social Network Websites in Investigations

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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.[1]

1 Facebook
1.1 Alcohol policy violations
1.2 Other investigations
1.3 Student government
2 MySpace
3 See also
4 References

Facebook, an online facebook and social network service, is increasingly being used by school administrations and law enforcement agencies as a source of evidence against student users. The site, the number one 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 which often include resident assistants and campus police 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.[2]

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. [1]

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. [2]

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. [3]

In response to the monitoring, some students have begun to submit "red herring" party listings. [4] In one case at George Washington University, shown at, 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. [5]

Other investigations
In December 2004, The Student Life 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. [6]

In March 2005, the United States Secret Service met with a University of Oklahoma freshman after he posted to the Facebook: “We could all donate a dollar and raise millions of dollars to hire an assassin to kill the president and replace him with a monkey.” The investigation began after a fellow OU student alerted the Secret Service to the threat. [7]

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. [8]

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. [9]

In October 2005, Penn 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. [10]



People's activity on MySpace has also been implicated in numerous investigations, but unlike Facebook, there are no known cases of investigators actively mining or patrolling MySpace for crime information. Some examples of MySpace-based issues in the legal system: [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] [34] [35] [36] [37] [38] [39] [40] [41] [42] [43] [44] Further investigations are reported by the blog MyCrimeSpace. The company Razorcom offers a paid service called myspaceWatch that allows parents and others to track activity of users.

Source []


Kevin said...

I'm sorry but I don't see the purpose behind simply (and sloppily) cutting-and-pasting a Wikipedia article into a blog post. Do you have any original commentary to add? Or at least an interesting or amusing introduction? And what about the legal and ethical implications of simply pasting a large amount of copyrighted text into your blog (fair use may not be a viable defense if there is no critical discussion or commentary)?

Please tell me I'm missing something!

Gerry said...


Thanks for your interest and comments.


Adam said...


A debate on the purpose aside, Wikipedia allows for the re-use of their content in this manner:

The author has clearly indicated this content is from Wikipedia and provided a conspicuous link back to the original content.

What's more, a verbatim copy of an article should not (according to Wikipedia) be altered...resulting in what, perhaps, you meant by a "sloppy cutting and pasting"?