Internet Crime Confessions - Anonymity Week


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Anthony Ryan.

Everyone knows that social media outlets offer various ways for us to connect and share our life experiences online. A certain, special portion of these experiences, though, may reflect poor decision-making. Some of these poor decisions are overtly illegal, so posting them can result in police attention–followed by possible prosecution.

Circa 2005, during my days at university, I recall a couple occasions where dormitory drug dealers were busted by cops after advertising their business on Facebook. Beyond their immediate sympathetic best friends, the rest of the students’ reactions were largely, “That’s stupid,” or, “What idiots.”

We were in the dusk of our teens and Facebook was just past its infancy, and at that point, the general consensus was that individuals who practice illegal activity should know better than to publicly post such information through that site.

Up to today–when Facebook recently turned 10 and has grown to be the world’s largest social-networking platform–people have still used the site to confess crimes.

And the reactions remain the same.

Take, for instance, the title of a blog posted last year on Smosh: “8 Idiots Who Got Arrested Because of Facebook.” The author includes several cringe-inducing occasions where Facebook users posted pictures of obvious illegal instances: a baby holding a bong, a prison escapee flipping off the police, or even (though it’s not directly displayed there) a barbecue grilling endangered reptile meat.

Images are incriminating, then as for a textual confession, the Smosh article cites an Oregon teen who posted an alarming status last year: “Drivin drunk… classsic. 😉 but to whoever’s vehicle i hit i am sorry. :P”

The respective commentary is replete with “dumb,” “complete moron,” “stupid,” “WTF,” and so on.

Of course, the reason these people are considered so stupid is because Facebook is largely focused on the individual user–it’s not anonymous. Accounts can present your name, profile picture, friend network, profession, whereabouts, photographs, and other pinpointing information.

Moreover, it’s a bad idea for criminals to log into their victims’ accounts to show their misconducts.

There was an incident during late 2010 when a burglar broke into the house of Washington Post reporter Marc Fisher, robbing his family of their money and belongings. Entering the son’s room, the burglar decided to document his booty by opening a laptop and snapping a self-photo, while sporting Marc Fisher’s stolen coat, and holding up a few hundred dollar bills. This ostentatious robber was so proud of himself that he posted his portrait to the son’s Facebook wall for 400 teenagers to view.

How did the authorities react?

“I’ve seen a lot, but this is the most stupid criminal I’ve ever seen,” DC police officer Kyle Roe said. The suspect–if you can even call him that after his evident frontal photo–was arrested and pled guilty to burglary.

Facebook, for everything it encompasses, has developed into a notable reference as to how people’s lives aren’t private anymore due to the internet–but a separate social networking site, Reddit, is available to be used anonymously. People can inconspicuously post on its forums by online user names.

Many memes circulate throughout Reddit’s forums, one of which is Confession Bear. It features base photo of a perched Malayan sun bear where users can type text over the mammal’s frowning mug. Written confessions are varied, but can be admittances to guiltily liking Katy Perry’s music, harboring distasteful discriminatory feelings, or practicing incest. Once the Confession Bear is posted on to a forum, other users can react through threads, but by the anonymity nature, it’s hard to tell if many of the situations are actually accurate.

About a year ago, a startling Confession Bear post came up, written by a user known as Naratto. It read, “My sister had an abusive meth addict boyfriend. I killed him with his own drugs while he was unconscious and they ruled it as an overdose.”

Viral within minutes, the alleged “confession” prompted hundreds of Reddit users to begin virtual investigation by mining through Narrato’s previous posts to figure out the users’ name, photo, and location. They pinned him down to a 24-year-old man in San Diego, California. Local police began investigating the case, but because of the inherent anonymity factor, were unsure of whether it was valid.

A San Diego police spokesman admitted that while the confession might be a hoax, people should still report such information, as it could be helpful in solving cases.

Posting crimes on Facebook is considered unwise and easy for cops to catch, while posting misdeeds on Reddit is inconclusive. Either way, shouldn’t we acknowledge that laws and consequences exist, regardless of how we use (or misuse) social media?