If you’re online, you’ve probably been witness to a crime. I’m not referring to the crime of being cringe — I’m talking about people who openly post incriminating information on social media.
In one viral example, turn to the comment section of any video posted by Alex Peter, a lawyer on TikTok. Peter’s followers see him as their collective attorney — a parasocial relationship that Peter actively, hilariously implores them to stop acting on. Commenters frequently ask for legal advice, make jokes about committing crimes, or outright confess to committing crimes. These comments range from “Is it illegal to take ducks from a park? Also do you want to see my totally not stolen park ducks?” to “I shot a man in an Applebee’s parking lot in Dunwich, Oklahoma in 1993.”
Whatever the true intentions behind these comments, I couldn’t help but wonder how these comment section confessionals would look in front of a jury. Especially on platforms like TikTok, where people’s accounts are anonymous, the lines between truth and trolling are constantly blurred. What are the legal ramifications, if any, of lightheartedly posting about criminal activity?
I spoke with Jack Litwak, a criminal defence attorney in Phoenix, to better understand what it means when someone posts their crimes online.
Anything you post can and will be used against you
Litwak says that since the beginning of social media, people have posted information that ends up being used against them in court.
Litwak uses the example of a felon posting a picture that places them holding or even next to a gun, which would then be photographic evidence of a crime. But even posts that aren’t so blatant can still be incriminating. Litwak says that an emotional Facebook status, for instance, could be used against you in court to demonstrate potential motive or bias towards an individual.
As explained by Carey Law Office, “posting constitutes a written record. Unlike an oral action, where the case revolves around the credibility of each person, written records are generally deemed to be credible evidence.” Litwak says this is why one of the first moves the state makes will be to go through a defendant’s social media to use it against them.
Understand that even if you’re commenting under a lawyer’s video, that person is not your lawyer. You do not have attorney-client privilege.
You are not truly anonymous
Anything you post online is there forever and can be traced back to you. This is a fact of life when it comes to job interviews, online dating, and especially criminal trials.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, Litwak says a search warrant for biographical information associated with your account can be used to connect you to whatever anonymous username you might be posting under.
Sometimes this investigative technology can work in your favour. Litwack explains that if someone were to make fake posts under your name in an attempt to build a case against you, uncovering when and where those posts were made could help clear your name. So whether it’s to help or hurt your case, it’s key to remember that nothing is ever as anonymous as you think.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, stop posting
Litwak’s major piece of advice: You have the right to remain silent — so use it.
And if you do keep posting, keep in mind that anything you say can be used against you — even if you’re a random TikTok commenter under a funny lawyer’s videos.