Web sites give new forum for bragging about crime


The saying “watch your back” is taking on a whole new meaning.

Newswires have been buzzing lately with stories of teens caught red-handed doing illegal things – not by eyewitnesses – but rather with an indisputable piece of evidence: a digital recording.

By now, most of us have heard that potential employers often look on Facebook and MySpace to get a more comprehensive view of job candidates. We have been warned by teachers and counselors to keep questionable material off our profiles to avoid this embarrassment.

Now, however, we need to discuss the importance of keeping videos that implicate us in illegal activities, too.

Earlier this month in Polk County, Fla., a video was posted on YouTube incriminating nearly a dozen teenagers in a brutal beating of a 16-year-old girl. An Orlando TV station’s Web site claims that it was clear the video’s purpose was to post the beating online for the world to see. According to the article, at one point, a girl’s voice can be heard on the video saying, “There is only 17 seconds left; make it good.”

Similarly, in 2007, a Canadian press article posted on the CTV Web site describes a fight between two teenage girls encircled by a band of cheering peers being posted and viewed by more than a thousand people before eventually getting removed from the site.

These crimes are not new to the Web, however. A 2006 online article by the UK newspaper The Sun reports that a man was arrested in Wales for recording himself as he stole the glasses from a woman’s face on the street and made a run for it.

Sophomore education major Stacey Pikowski avoids using YouTube because she thinks it shows people at their worst.

“Kids are very impressionable and when they see violence being displayed in such an accepted manner, it makes them think it’s OK when it’s not,” Pikowski said.

Pikowski said she thought the incident in Florida was “stupid and ridiculous.” She added, “Do people really have nothing better to do anymore?”

YouTube is not the only place for incriminating evidence online. Earlier this month in St. Charles, a student asked a girl to prom via graffiti on his school building. Police were able to track down the suspect by connecting his tagger name left at the scene of the crime to his MySpace account, which used the same name.

It baffles me to think that people still do not realize the power and accessibility of the Internet. The things we write, post, search for and view are out there for the world to see – and the world takes advantage of that. It reminds me of playing hide-and-seek with small children; they don’t realize that if they can see the person they are hiding from, the seeker can probably see them too. We go online to find news and information about other people, but assume people are not looking for information about us.

Unfortunately, I foresee a long road ahead of us before this trend subsides. As the popularity of online communities continues to rise, we should expect to see their roles in policing our society grow, too.