Though the law may never fully catch up to the pace of innovation on the Internet, it certainly is trying and there are a lot of ways you can find yourself in legal trouble on the Web.
Many of the ways are obscure, complex and difficult to avoid. Is using that passage from a site a copyright infringement? Is that comment about another person defamation? Is the action you want to take a violation of a terms of service? These are often tough questions that can be difficult even for legal experts to answer.
But then there are the ways in which idiots find themselves getting in trouble online. Things that pretty much any sane, reasonable and intelligent human being would know to be a bad idea before even finishing the thought.
Yet, time and time again people fall victim to the most stupid and idiotic ways that they can get in trouble online.
So, for a bit of fun and education today, we’re going to look at three of the dumbest ways people seem to routinely get in trouble online. You might learn something, but if you do, you probably want to re-examine whether you want to be online or not.
After all, if you’re falling into these hazards, the Internet is likely just a great big disaster waiting to happen.
1. Using the Internet to Plan/Commit an Obvious Crime
The Internet has made it easier to conduct business, both legitimate and illegal. The problem, if you happen to be of the criminal persuasion, is that the Internet also makes it much easier to get caught.
The reasons for this are two-fold.
First, it makes it easier to trace back crimes to the person who committed or is committing them. Though smart criminal can hide these tracks, few have the expertise to do so completely and even fewer are careful enough to do it 100% of the time. In short, if you aren’t smart and 100% perfect with your track-covering, it’s inevitable that your activities can be lead back to you.
Second, if you are caught, those Internet footprints and other activity, become a mountain of evidence against you, making it easier than ever for a prosecutor to score a conviction. In short, plotting a crime on the Internet is like writing down every detail of what you’re doing and storing it somewhere that you can’t destroy.
If you’re trying to stay out of trouble, committing a crime is pretty dumb by itself. However, compounding the issue by planning or executing that crime online just makes things worse. It virtually guarantees that the crime can easily be traced to you and that your email service, your computer, your social network and even your search engine can become powerful witnesses against you.
In short, if you want to stay out of legal trouble, don’t commit any crimes and especially don’t do them online.
2. Confessing (Truthfully or Falsely) to Other Crimes
If we’re completely honest, pretty much no one has gone through their lives without breaking the law in some (hopefully relatively small way). Poor decisions, accidents and indiscretions are human and, fortunately, most of the mistakes people make are small and are for crimes that either go unnoticed or don’t become anything more than a lesson learned.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to hop on your blog, YouTube channel or Facebook account and brag about how you’re driving with a suspended license, siphoning gas or scamming restaurants for free food.
What’s amazing about this isn’t that it’s happened once or twice, but that would-be criminal masterminds have been confessing to their crimes so regularly that police are now actively monitoring social networks since much of the information is posted publicly, meaning no warrant is needed. This information has led to arrests in crimes big and small.
If you believe that you can talk about your misdeeds in private, always remember that it only takes one person to forward a message to break that circle.
Likewise, don’t think that hiding behind a shield of anonymity can help, remember that your anonymity is only as solid as the interest is in discovering your identity. Consider the case of the Redditor that “confessed” to a murder via a meme and was later discovered (he now claims it was a joke).
In short, it’s best to keep the details of your misdeeds off the Internet. The police may not care enough about your crimes to pursue you and build a case against you, but if you hand them a free confession they might change their mind.
3. Using the Internet to Settle Real-World Scores
Got a beef with a teacher that gave you a bad grade? Maybe feeling jilted by a ex-lover? What about your boss that passed you up for a promotion? The Internet gives you a bevy of ways to get your revenge.
From the truly malevolent to the seemingly harmless, the Internet makes it easy to lash out at people you know online. Whether for revenge, fun or something in between, you can impact or wreck other’s lives very easily and with little skill.
The problem with doing so is that, as with the above examples, it’s very easy to trace back the source of the activity. ISPs and email accounts can be subpoenaed. But even worse, since the activity was targeted (and likely reported) by someone locally, enforcement is easy.
When someone is cyberstalked, hacked or otherwise attacked online, suspicion doesn’t usually go right to foreign hackers or anonymous trolls elsewhere online. Instead, it usually starts with the people who have a grudge with that person in the physical world and, more often than not, it’s right, especially when dealing with someone who doesn’t have a large online presence.
To make matters worse, one of the things that prevents more cybercrime from being prosecuted or litigated is jurisdictional issues. It’s difficult, for example, to bring a German man to justice for an attack on an Australian site even if one can be reasonably certain who did it.
However, bring the weight of the Internet to bear on someone closer to home and those issues go away, making you vulnerable to being arrested, sued or more.
Commiting any crime online is stupid, but committing it against someone you know personally is practically begging for legal trouble.
The Internet brings out the best and the worst in humanity. It gives a world wide voice to our best, brightest and most ethical as well as our worst, dumbest and most vile.
It always amazes me how many people post stupid things on the Internet and expect not to get caught. Time and time again idiots who commit crimes or other unethical acts on the Web are surprised when they are discovered and brought to justice, be it by criminal court, civil court or the court of public opinion.
When online, don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do in your town’s square or in front of a police station. Remember that everything you post on the Web is public, or can quickly become as such, and that you are never truly anonymous.
Crime doesn’t pay and that’s true both off and on the Web. Unfortunately, the Web just makes it easier to get caught and also makes you look much more foolish when you do.