We wrote earlier this year about the Supreme Court’s decision to throw out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who made chilling and vivid threats on Facebook to harm his estranged wife and others. Anthony Elonis had been convicted and sentenced to 44 months in prison. In fighting the conviction, Elonis argued his posts (which he continued despite a restraining order) were meant as jokes and, therefore, qualify for First Amendment protection. He also argued that the jury must find that he intended his Facebook posts to be threatening.
Since the June Supreme Court ruling did not address the First Amendment question, media attention about the case contributed to an important conversation about the increasing, and ever-changing, role of social media as a tool for offenders to stalk, harass and threaten their victims.
But turnabout is fair play.
The sheriff’s office in Shelby County, Tennessee is using Facebook to look for more than 1,300 domestic violence offenders. Sgt. Mickey Keaton, aka The Facebook Guy, told the Memphis Fox station that within 15 minutes of posting domestic violence arrest warrants on the Shelby County Sheriff’s Facebook page, he’s received calls and texts about the offenders’ locations. In one case, a suspect surrendered within 30 minutes of a post about him.
“A lot of these people, their victims are already willing to talk with us so we can usually contact them, especially if it’s a spouse, ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, and they usually have an idea of where they might be or where they’re working,” Keaton told the Fox station.
Using Facebook and other forms of social media to find offenders follows the tradition of television crime shows like “America’s Most Wanted.” Law enforcement can leverage social media’s broad reach to share information about public safety threats. And posting domestic violence arrest warrants on Facebook has the potential to hold offenders accountable by publicly naming them and their crime.
We give a hearty “like” to this Facebook trend.