The popularity of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter have changed how we obtain information about suspected illegal activity. Before, the media was the primary factor that shaped our opinions about crime. Now, social media is quickly becoming the news source of choice for most people.

While the impact of social media on crime has the potential to be both positive and negative, too often a criminal defendant is viewed as guilty in the court of public opinion prior to getting to tell his or her side of the story.

Law enforcement increasingly using social media

Social media has been very beneficial for criminal justice institutions. Police are relying on social media more and more as a tool in investigations. Prosecutors are using social media posts as “evidence” of criminal activity. In addition, social media provides a way for police and other institutions to interact with the public and to gather information.

However, when the crime involves a hot-button issue, such as sexual assault on college campuses, it can be very difficult for many people to remain objective and withhold an opinion on innocence or guilt. Instead, social media information against that person can accumulate, leading more and more people to assume guilt, prior to the defendant ever being able to contest criminal charges.

Social media can complicate criminal justice

Trial by social media is concerning. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media websites can hinder prosecutions and the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Before indictment, pictures of the defendant are often posed on social media. Hate groups have been created against people who have not been found guilty of any crime. Some jurors have published their thoughts about certain cases online.

Innocent until proven guilty

It is a fundamental right that people can get their story told in court and their rights upheld, regardless of the crime they are alleged to have committed. If you have been charged with a crime, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure your constitutional rights are respected, particularly when the public has already weighed in on the issue without knowing the full story.