According to The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, when Emily Hunt, a Student at the University of Arkansas, was arrested by campus police, they gave her very little explanation as to why she was being taken into custody. What little the police did say didn’t make much sense to the frightened student. They apparently only explained to her that it had something to do with a post she had made on Facebook that morning.
Earlier in the day, campus police received a report from another student, Nicolette Nottage, that Ms. Hunt had threatened her on Facebook. In an interview with Nottage, campus police unfortunately made little effort to investigate the validity of the threatening message, or that the threat had actually come from Hunt’s Facebook account. They took the message, which appeared on the classic blue Facebook background, at face value and within the hour were searching to apprehend Ms. Hunt for Terroristic Threatening and to issue an immediate suspension letter from the University.
By neglecting to gather information about the account that allegedly sent the message, police made a serious error. In situations like this, contacting the social media service provider, like Facebook, for subscriber information and login details for the account in question, should have been one of the first steps to make. Were there any public posts, what were the number of friends, and was there a cell phone number tied to the account? All of these questions and more could have possibly been determined even without contacting Facebook, depending on the account privacy settings.
Well, the truth eventually came out through the hard work and social media literacy displayed by Ms. Hunt and her attorney, which gave way to an eventual admission by Ms. Nottage herself to a University student-conduct official. Ms. Nottage admitted that Hunt had not sent the message, but rather she had created a fake profile using a photo of Hunt and sent the message to her own account. Criminal charges have since been filled against Ms. Nottage, along with a civil suit filed by Ms. Hunt.
There are countless cautionary tales of relying on social media as the sole source of evidence, given the ease in which it can be faked or spoofed. This is just another one of those cautionary tales and we have witnessed many others first hand, just like Ms. Hunt did.
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Digital Forensics/Cybersecurity/Information Technology