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Social media posts can land you in hot water

Social media posts can land you in hot water

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Though self-expression is the cornerstone of social media, certain status updates, photos and even private messages can land a person in court or even jail.

David McDivitt with the McDivitt Law Firm warns that Internet users should be careful that their posts don't verge on libel.  McDivitt said the courts are seeing more web-related cases in recent years because people are pushing back against negative online content.  

"You just have to always be careful about what you say, what you type, what you write," McDivitt said.  "Are you saying something that's untrue about somebody? Did you know it was untrue when you typed it? And did it hurt them?  Once you put it down on the Internet, it's there and you have to deal with the consequences."

If you post something libelous about a public figure, McDivitt says you're probably safe, but post about a peer or business and that's a different story.  If you write a libelous review about a restaurant, for example, that restaurant could sue you, though McDivitt says the restaurant could end up doing my harm by bringing more attention to a negative post.  

Social media can also be used against you in criminal cases.

John Koch, a patrol sergeant with the Colorado Springs Police Department, says CSPD uses social media for all sorts of investigations, especially major criminal cases.

"If you think of an investigation almost like a jigsaw puzzle and social media would be just one piece of the puzzle," Koch said.  "As social media has proliferated and gotten much larger, we've obviously had to adapt to that."

Koch said CSPD weighs the severity of the crime when considering charges, and generally won't pursue civil cases or petty crimes.  But if officers have probable cause, they can get a search warrant for your social media accounts -- including private messages.

"All of the social media sites in the United States have dedicated law enforcement contact groups," Koch said.  "We generally see turnaround within one to two business days, up to about a month."

Koch stresses that if you can commit the crime in person, you can commit it online, including harassment and threats, and you can be held accountable for those interactions.

"Once you click 'send' or 'post,' you can't bring it back," he said.

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