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Castleberry Fairs

Facebook aids, overwhelms local law enforcement


February 22, 2012
LITTLETON – Law enforcement officials are learning that social media sites like Facebook are a double edge sword – helping with investigations but also dragging them into many petty name-calling disputes.

On-line, interactive social web sites are increasingly playing a major role in all aspects of life – connecting people to each other and leaving a vivid public trail of every utterance and photograph.

"People put too much information" out there, said Berlin Police Detective Nathan Roy. Some of it is embarrassing and other illegal.

"Its part of the evidence. It's good evidence." said Littleton's prosecuting attorney Aliza Anavri, it helps "prove motive and intent."

The younger generation is more casual with sharing personal information and even incriminating banter on the Internet, which is in the public domain. All personal communication records – including telephone, text messages and e-mails -- are available and can be obtained by law enforcement officials with a proper court approval. This is rare – in part because more easily accessible social media sites provide police and the general public with so much information.

Consider the case of two young men who were accused of possessing a fawn – a young deer in Littleton recently. Michael Glidden, 20 of Lisbon, and Michael Rothney, 19 of Littleton, both pleaded guilty to charges and were fined $248 on Jan. 10. The investigators were aided by Glidden's posting on his Facebook page with a photograph of the fawn sitting on his lap. The collared neck was key said Fish and Game Conservation Glen Office Lucas, who handled the case.

Lucas said his department received a tip from someone who saw the posting. "I jumped on-line" he said and pursued the case. Lucas admits that he was surprised by it all. Glidden's Facebook profile is public and the photo with the fawn remains on it, possibly because Glidden is incarcerated on other convictions and unable to remove it. Whitefield Police Chief William Colborn said he doesn't routinely scan postings, but does use it when he has a suspect of an alleged crime. He is using it "more and more," he said. A few years ago, a local gun store was robbed of several guns and, he said, we "got a big break from Facebook" that led to a conviction.

Social media is used more broadly than to snoop on people, said Prosecutor Anavri . She knows of police officers who have used to simply communicate with people and to seek clues on a tough case. More sophisticated people, Anavri said, have skirted the court-ordered non-contact stipulations by posting information on a third party's site knowing full well the intended person will get the message.

The pressure is mounting for people to be more discreet, sites are being monitor by parents, schools, employers and some are asking potential employees to log into their sites and display their previous posts. "People are getting smart to it," said Roy. It is possible to make one's page private and only accessible to accepted friends, but many people don't do it.

Cyber bulling has increasingly disrupted schools, agonized children and adolescents and occupied administrators who are required by law to investigate. Recently, White Mountains Regional High School was accused of ignoring a bullying charge (one the school vehemently denies). But, still it illustrates the varying legal standards between school rules and criminal law.

Police report that they are getting more complaints stemming from unkind comments made on social media sites. "We get a lot of calls," said Lancaster Police Chief John Gardiner, and they will say, someone "said this about me on Facebook." In most cases, he said, "We really have no legal basis. That's a civil thing." Civil cases are typically disputes between people, whereas criminal crimes are violations of state law brought by the state and are punishable by jail time or a fine.

"It's more than we can handle," Gardiner admits. Police Departments use to more regularly deal with harassment by telephone. It's called "unwanted contact" or "crank call" and it is considerably harder for an individual to protect themselves against such aggravation. Today with the Internet, it's much simpler and Berlin Police Department's Roy reminds callers to his department asking them to investigate unfriendly comments to "just block them" from their page.

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