Regarding Facebook and Twitter, there is a side to those communities that people don’t know exist. Did you know that there are products that anyone can buy, including social services agencies and law enforcement, that can monitor Facebook and Twitter activity (and other sites) on an ongoing basis. Let me give you some examples:
Example 1: A low-income mother may go to her County Department of Social Services for welfare assistance because her husband left her and her income is now below a certain threshold to support herself and her two children. She must document her income, her need and that her husband is gone, and in many states she will be eligible for some type of assistance. However, the case worker may be checking her Facebook page and see if there are pictures of her and the children at little league games with the supposedly absent husband happy and engaged in the family life.
Example 2: A couple is in divorce proceedings and things are contested. The estranged husband could put a trace on the wife’s Facebook account to collect all posts in an effort to get evidence against her. The trace will do just that. Even if the wife posts something, leaves it there for half an hour and then deletes it, the trace will have picked it up for the permanent record. Even if it was there just for a short time and deleted right away, the husband has it recorded.
Example 3: Law enforcement trying to locate somebody when they enter a certain geographic area can put a trace on Facebook, Twitter and many other location-sensitive programs that trigger when a certain person posts something. They can identify a few city blocks and trigger for posts about keywords they are looking for. In the case of a restraining order, the presence of the restrained person in the vicinity can be triggered and an alert can be generated.
The three examples should be enough to scare you – and they are real. We’re not talking NSA stuff here. You and I can buy these products and go to town with them. Of course, most ordinary people like you and I have better things to do. But predators love this stuff.
So next time you tweet that you’re going to Hawaii for a week and then your Facebook account is filling up with pictures of the cocktails you’re sipping at Cheeseburger in Paradise, think about those predators.