Bad Ideas, Crime, Facebook, Social Networking Websites, Technology

Do Your Facebook Pictures Prove You’re A Criminal?

File this one under “Disappointing, but not really surprising.”

According to a new study, it turns out that quite a few law students not only break the law, but also post the evidence on Facebook. We’ve already covered why this is a bad idea.

For some reason I keep hoping Facebook has been around long enough that people –- at least those of us older than 16 –- would stop doing stuff like this and this. But I guess I’m just naive.

Let’s look at the study results….

In a recent Kaplan PMBR Bar Review survey of 428 third-year law students, 49 percent of respondents reported seeing something on someone’s Facebook page that “could get the poster in trouble with the law.”  Out of that group, nearly half –- 44 percent, to be precise — said the alleged offender was in law school or was a lawyer.

From Kaplan’s press release:

“The fact that nearly half have seen something illegal posted on Facebook doesn’t mean that we are a society of criminals. Illegal activity can mean minors drinking beer or someone smoking a Cuban cigar.  But also given their stage of professional development, law students tend to be particularly aware of the finer points of the law, in the same way that medical students can sometimes be hypochondriacs,” said Steven Marietti, executive director of academic programs, Kaplan PMBR Bar Review. 

“Regardless, it’s smart to be cautious, since what you post on Facebook can potentially be held against you when coming before the bar or in court.”

I come across Facebook friends’ photos of underage drinking or public drinking on a surprisingly regular basis. I’ve also seen photos of folks enjoying the Devil’s lettuce via massive bongs and graffiti artists documenting their vandalism handiwork.

To be fair, those are pretty PG, as far as crime goes. And I can’t think of any law students in my Facebook Rolodex who have publicly documented stuff like this, at least since they’ve entered school.

I suppose nowadays it’s slightly less risky to post photos of yourself committing minor offenses because Facebook offers more comprehensive, albeit confusing, privacy controls. Obviously that doesn’t mean you should, because (a) anyone who can see the photos will think you look foolish, and (b) if you do screw up the privacy settings, the people who decide your future might see it. Those folks still look at your online profile, as they have for the last decade:

Moreover, a 2010 Kaplan survey of law school admissions officers showed that nearly 20 percent had personally visited an applicant’s social networking site to help them evaluate that applicant –- all the more reason for hyper-awareness.

Has anyone seen their law school compatriots post pics of themselves breaking the law? Did anything come of it? If so, please share with us in the comments.

Law School Students Say Facebook Rife with Incriminating Evidence – And Many Say Peers Among the Offenders [Kaplan PMBR Bar Review Survey]

Christopher Danzig is a writer in Oakland, California. He previously covered legal technology for InsideCounsel magazine. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisdanzig or email him at You can read more of his work at

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