While social media has demonstrated its utility in all kinds of unexpected areas, some of the most interesting applications have been discovered by criminals, who use social media to perpetrate elaborate frauds, identify vacation-going burglary subjects, and steal online identities. And it seems like resourceful outlaws are finding new, surprising applications for social media every day. Here's a good one: social media as a communications platform in armed standoffs.
No, really: according to the Associated Press, Jason Valdez, 36, took to Facebook via his smart phone during a 16-hour-long armed standoff with SWAT teams at a motel in Ogden, Utah. His first Facebook status update read: "I'm currently in a stand off wit these shady azz niggaz from old, kinda ugly but ready for whatever, I love u guyz and if I don't make it out of here alive that I'm in a better place and u were all great friends...." Later Valdez posted a photo of himself and a woman he was holding hostage, with the following tag: "Got a cute 'HOSTAGE,' huh."
As bizarre as all this sounds, the surprising thing is how much sense it actually makes (from a criminal's point of view). Valdez was not only able to use Facebook to communicate with his friends and loved ones; he also received information from a friend warning him about a SWAT team member hiding in nearby bushes and advising him to "stay low." While this is obviously illegal (I wouldn't be surprised if the sympathetic poster has been arrested) at the time it may have been very useful to Valdez, allowing him to circumvent the communications blackout usually enforced by police in these situations.
Like most armed standoffs, there was no escape for Valdez in the end: he shot himself in the chest as the SWAT team stormed the motel, and is now in critical condition. His hostage was freed, unharmed, so there is a happy ending to the story. But the incident demonstrated that law enforcement officials have to worry about a whole new array of communications channels available to criminals.Last year I wrote about a number of criminals who (sometimes without meaning to) accumulated social media followings, including Kari Ferrell, the "hipster grifter" venerated by a Facebook fan page for swindling her way across America before winding up in jail (she was also hunted by a virtual MySpace "posse," as Gawker termed it); Craig 'Lazie' Lynch, a burglar who escaped from a British prison and eluded Scotland Yard for 112 days, using multiple Facebook profiles to taunt British police; and Colton "Barefoot" Harris-Moore, a teenage kleptomaniac with a bonafide gift for stealing stuff in the Pacific Northwest, whose Facebook fan page had literally tens of thousands of admirers.