Facebook is a great tool for keeping in touch with old friends. But as some criminals have shown, Facebook is also a great tool for witness intimidation.
In some circles, there is no greater insult than being called a "rat" or a "snitch." So if you cooperate with police, you could potentially put your own safety in danger -- as people you know on Facebook may be quick to point out.
There has been a slow increase in cases of Facebook witness intimidation. And prosecutors have come down hard on those who turn to social media to discourage others from cooperating with police and prosecutors.
In two separate cases in Pennsylvania, prosecutors have brought charges of witness intimidation for threats posted on Facebook.
Last fall, a woman used Facebook to intimidate a witness in her boyfriend's attempted murder trial. In a Facebook message to the witness, the woman reportedly referred to the witness as a "rat" and urged him to remain silent, reports The Mercury of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. The 24-year-old woman was convicted of witness intimidation and sentenced to prison.
Just a few weeks ago, a 20-year-old Philadelphia man was also accused of using Facebook to threaten witnesses against his friends who were charged in a weapons case. The man's Facebook posts allegedly used the words "RATS" and "KILL RATS," The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The suspect now also faces witness intimidation charges.
Besides Facebook messages, witness intimidation can pretty much include any form of intimidating or menacing conduct.
In general, witness intimidation includes any act made to threaten or discourage a prospective witness from coming forward and cooperating with police and prosecutors. Witness intimidation can include something as simple as a menacing look, or it can include explicit threats, property damage, assaults, and other forms of threatening conduct.