During the early days of the environmental movement, a character in Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” comic strip spouts an aphorism that encapsulated the times: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” If the strip ran today, the quote might instead be, “We have met our accusers, and they are our things.”
Increasingly, we are being accused, sued, indicted, and convicted because of evidence, or presumed evidence, that we ourselves provide.
Sometimes it’s stupidly self-inflicted, as in the case of the 24-year-old man from Florida arrested for robbery after posting photos of himself on Facebook with a gun and hat similar to the gun and hat on the robbed store’s surveillance camera — while holding a bundle of loot. At least said robber has a promising career appearing on “dumbest criminal” TV clips.
But for a while now, we have inadvertently been tripped up by our gadgets. For example, in-car electronic toll paying doodads have been used to document that philandering husbands and others weren’t where they claimed to be. This was controversial in the beginning, but now is accepted as de rigueur.
Just a few days ago the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide to what degree our smart phones can “testify” against us. At issue is whether or not police can search through an arrested criminal suspect’s cell phone data without a warrant. One of the cases involved a man convicted of firing gunshots into an occupied vehicle, in part due to a photograph found on his smart phone of him posing in front of a car similar to the assaulted one. I’m seeing a pattern here, and potential for a new Jeff Foxworthy TV show: “Are You Dumber Than Your Smart Phone?”
Posing for and posting incriminating photos of yourself committing a crime is even more asinine than the latest trend of uploading pictures of every restaurant meal you eat to Instagram.
Now that we have an “Internet of Things,” it’s only a matter of time before someone’s refrigerator and stove tip off police of a plot to poison a spouse, and the dishwasher is called as a star witness. That’s after the cops were able to foil your attempt to elude them by monitoring your cyber-sneakers. We are looking at a future where we are literally entrapped by our trappings.
It seems our social media postings might be increasingly involved in litigation matters, as well. The first “twibel” case is going to trial, thanks to Courtney Love’s 2010 tweet accusing her lawyer of being “bought off” during a legal tussle with the managers of dead husband Kurt Cobain’s estate. Pre-Twitter, Courtney had to be more creative and take out her rage on a hotel room, or engage in self-destructive behavior that earned her mention in the tabloids. Now that “filter” is gone.
If angry tweets typed and sent in a fit of pique can be judged “defamatory,” it means two things: the next million dollar app will be one that automatically scans drafted messages for possible libelous content and warns the impulsive author before sending it; and that Alec Baldwin can look forward to spending countless hours fighting libel charges in court from here on out.
And let us not fail to mention the immortal email, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee?” as a prime exhibit of hanging oneself via the Internet.
We may still a have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but increasingly it seems that everything we own and post can and will be used against us.