Most Social Media Users Unaware of Legal Repercussions

Well, social media presented a singularly depressing face of humanity to the world today: one video making the rounds shows a bunch of Russian neo-Nazis verbally and physically abusing a gay Russian teenager, culminating in them pouring a bottle of urine on his head -- apparently one in a series of such videos created by Russian neo-Nazi groups. Meanwhile, stateside one Adrienne Martin of St. Louis was arrested after she set a dog on fire and then boasted about it on Facebook.


If you’re like me, these stories stir so many different strong negative feelings it’s kind of hard to discern which one dominates, but if I had to choose one (besides profound contempt) it’s amazement that people see fit to actually post the evidence of their misdoings online.


Now, clearly these aren’t the smartest folks: any Russian who claims to be a neo-Nazi is all kinds of confused (guys, you may want to read up on what Adolf Hitler thought about Russians), and Martin has been described by other online commentators as “illiterate,” which may be generous. But still: don’t people know that publishing the details of their crimes online is, you know, really, really stupid?


The answer, apparently, is no: a recent phone survey of 1,001 U.S. adults by found that over half of social media users are unaware that what they post online can be used as evidence against them in court. Indeed only 46% of Facebook users were aware of this fact, followed by 44% of YouTube users, 38% of Twitter users, 32% of Instagram users, and 25% of Vine users.


Young people may be slightly savvier: while 33% of Facebook users over 55 were aware that what they post online can be held against them in court, 60% of Facebook users ages 18-34 were aware of this. Awareness of legal ramifications was also higher among more affluent social media users, with 60% of Facebook users with household incomes over $75,000 expressing awareness, compared to 41% of users with household incomes under $25,000. Likewise, more educated social media users were more likely to be aware of this fact, with 64% of Facebook users with a college degree expressing awareness, compared to 39% of Facebook users with a high school degree or less.

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