The Rise of Snapchat Crimes

Social media has created an explosion of new crimes, particularly on the beloved-by-teens Snapchat application. The app has become a hotbed of criminal activity because of users’ ability to communicate in secret. Messages “disappear” right after you send them. But since its inception, we are learning that there is almost always a digital footprint when it comes to social media. Snapchat is a growing source of evidence collection for law enforcement and even a platform for sting operations intended to catch offenders in illegal activity. We discuss a few of the lesser known criminal charges that can arise out of Snapchat in this article.

Harassment

If you are using Snapchat to harass, annoy, or alarm a person, you could be charged with Harassment. The law in Colorado clearly states that even if you are communicating through an app like Snapchat, which could seem harmless, this is still a very real crime. Although your messages are intended to disappear after sending, a user can photograph, screenshot, or show the image to friends before that happens, thereby creating evidence for law enforcement. Here are some examples of harassment on Snapchat:

  1. You are struggling with a breakup and start sending your ex Snapchat messages saying that you are going to “do something bad” if they don’t get back together with you. 
  2. You send messages to a romantic interest at all hours of the day and night, even after they have expressed that they are not interested in dating you. When they block you, you create a new account and keep trying.
  3. You send threatening messages to a person who punched you in the face last week and got away with it.

Violation of Protection Order

If you have a protection order or restraining order in place against you, the law says that you cannot have any contact with the other party unless there are very specific conditions ordered by a judge. Even though Snapchat is infamous for leaving no digital record of the messages sent on the app, you can still be charged with violating a protection order if you send a message of any kind to the person you have been ordered not to contact. If the person on the receiving end shows someone your message or is able to take a screenshot of the message, that evidence is likely enough to get you a misdemeanor charge. Below are some examples of how a crime like this could come about.

  1. You have been ordered not to contact your ex, but the two of you are still in love. You send a Snapchat image of a necklace you bought for them. A day or two later, the two of you get into an argument and your ex decides to show the message to law enforcement.
  2. You learn through your lawyer that your ex does not want to press charges against you. The protection order has not yet ended but you decide to send them a Snapchat message thanking them.
  3. You send a Snapchat message to a mutual friend asking them to relay a message to the person named in the protection order.

Child Pornography 

One of the most serious crimes a person can be charged with is creating and/or distributing child pornography. These crimes can lead to felony charges, long-term sex offender status, loss of your job and home, and even prison time. While it goes without saying that Snapchat has made it much easier to distribute child pornography, not every person charged with this crime has the intention of exploiting a child. Here are some ways these charges can arise from a Snapchat message.

  1. You and your high school sweetheart are young and in love. She is a minor and you just turned 18. You send explicit photos to each other that you have taken together. A teacher at school sees one pop up on your screen and reports it to authorities.
  2. You receive a nude photo from a minor. Even though you did not ask for the photo, you show a few friends the photo as it pops up on your screen. An onlooker sees what you are doing and reports you to the authorities.

Defamation

When a person makes false claims about another and damages their reputation or livelihood, this is called defamation. Although defamation is usually handled in a civil court, this offense can incur serious consequences. As we saw recently in the infamous Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard case, a lawsuit involving defamation can rack up serious restitution payments if you lose in court. We recorded a podcast on the Depp v. Heard case here. While this case involved celebrities, everyday people can also face serious consequences for defaming another, on any platform. Here are a couple of ways it could happen on Snapchat.

    1. You send a Snapchat message to a group of friends stating that a business discriminates against the LGBTQ community. Your friends post the message on Facebook and the post is shared thousands of times, leading to a decline in the shop’s business. The owner is a member of the LGBTQ community, denies the allegations, and sues you.
    2. You are angry that your ex has a boyfriend. You send Snapchat messages to his place of work, claiming the boyfriend is a known drug dealer and has dealt drugs to you recently. He is fired and sues you for defamation.

Invasion of Privacy

One of the easiest ways to commit a crime on Snapchat is through an Invasion of Privacy. Americans have the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy. When that right is violated, a crime has occurred. Here are some examples of how an invasion of privacy might be committed on Snapchat.

  1. You suspect your boyfriend is cheating and hack into his Snapchat account without his consent. You take screenshots of everything he sends and receives. 
  2. You share explicit photos and videos of a romantic partner on Snapchat. They consented to the photos, but not to you sharing them. 
  3. Your co-worker shared to you that she is having a romantic relationship with one of your other co-workers. You share this bit of gossip with your friend group, which includes other co-workers, on Snapchat. Someone tells the boss and they both get fired.

These are just a few examples of crimes that can happen on Snapchat. However, the list certainly does not end here. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime of this nature, call Hebets & McCallin. We can help.


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