As I write this article, a particularly high-profile trial just ended, and as part of it, the social media activity of the defendant was brought up. This is hardly the first time. Over and over again, we have witnessed that when a case goes to trial, the entire history of the defendant is brought to light, including activity on social media. How should this influence the behavior of concealed carriers nationwide?
Most people in our contemporary time use social media, be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other big tech platforms. Most people also seem to believe that their writing and sharing on those platforms is confidential or gone if it is deleted. Neither is the case. Anything that you share on social media is preserved indefinitely. Even if you have deleted it, there is usually a digital footprint of that data somewhere, and it will be retrievable if law enforcement demands it. Go on the assumption that it is forever if you put it online.
And it will be used against you if there is anything that does works against you.
What Your Interaction Might Say About You
Consider how your correspondence on social media might look if it was ever put in front of a jury after a defensive use of force, perhaps a perfectly justified use of force. Make no mistake. An ambitious prosecutor will use everything available against you. What do you have online that such a prosecutor could use to paint you as a loose cannon, vigilante, or violence-prone individual?
Many times I have read comments in the threads of articles or other social interactions to the tone of, “if you have to shoot someone in your home, make sure they are dead so that they can’t sue you.” Another common one is, “you break into my house; you leave in a bag.” Or, perhaps, “if someone threatens me, I will end it, permanently.”
Consider how such quips make you sound. What if, after stating online that a home defender should make sure a home invader is dead to avoid a lawsuit, you actually need to use force to defend your home? If the circumstance lands you in court, what will be the reaction when that comment is paraded in front of a jury of your peers? Even if the shooting was completely legitimate, what would a jury think? Such a comment may have them second-guessing the justification of your actions based on the fact that you appear to be an individual with little concern for human life. After all, such a comment denotes that it is better to make sure that a person is dead, albeit a criminal than to risk a civil lawsuit.
Also, be mindful of what you say about certain people or groups. Even if something is not said pertaining to violence, overtly hostile comments towards political groups, or activist organizations, etc.…, could set you up for a problem. Free speech covers the expression of not agreeing with such groups. Still, comments that could be construed as hostile in nature could certainly be brought up to prove a hostility towards the individual or group of individuals one may find themselves in a violent situation with. In the aftermath of a confrontation that leads to a use of force, you do not want your social media history to demonstrate that you had it in for any group or affiliation the other party may have belonged to.
Comments such as “looters should be shot on sight” are dangerous for your legal future, let alone distasteful, as suggesting that people should be shot for property damage that is not threatening life is not sound. No matter how infuriating it may be to watch, property does not trump human life. After making such a comment, what if you find yourself surrounded by members of a mob who are truly threatening your life, not just looting, and you use force? How will such a comment undermine your actions? It will suggest that you have a pre-existing hatred for a particular group of political activists, and that is why you used force. Do not make statements that suggest a lack of sanctity for human life. Yes, I realize that such criminal activity is despicable, but using lethal force is justified only if facing a lethal threat.
Would You Say it in Person?
There is no doubt that people are emboldened to say things via chat and comments on social media that they would not say in person. A good way to refrain from saying things on social media that could haunt you is to consider if you would say it in person to someone you know. If you would not, then don’t say it on social media.
Refrain from Offering Ignorant Advice
A common theme on social media is the advice offered by those ignorant of what they speak. Again, I refer to examples of self-defense advice, such as telling people to make sure the home invader is dead. If you don’t know the law at an expert level, don’t weigh in with your opinion. Consider the advice you may give related to gear or tactics. Do you know what you are talking about? If you offer advice that could lead to people hurting themselves or others, how will that reflect on you if you find yourself in a defensive situation? Advice such as “don’t carry pepper spray; if you need to defend yourself, shoot them!” should be avoided. If you find yourself on trial, such a statement can be used to demonstrate a desire to find the opportunity to shoot someone whenever possible and resort only to force option.
Know of what you speak before putting it in writing on social media. Don’t write something that you would not want in front of a jury. Your digital footprint is permanent, so consider your conduct in cyberspace carefully. No matter how justified a self-defense use of force may be, some prosecutors will bring it to trial for political reasons. If unfortunate enough to be facing a wrongful prosecution, don’t give them anything that is easily used against you to tarnish your character. Think before posting on social media.