West Virginia University Police Hop on the Social Media Bandwagon

As I have mentioned before, law enforcement agencies across the nation have begun using social media as a method to help prevent and investigate crimes, such as the agency I mentioned in the Tampa Bay area in Flordia. Now, West Virginia University Police and WVU Tech are hopping on the social media bandwagon to help keep their students safe in Morgantown and Montgomery, West Virginia. WVU and WVU Tech, and Potomac State are partnering with LiveSave, a company that strives to make communities a safer place, to implement their services and launch the app for students and faculty on these campuses. The app was created by Kristina Anderson, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting that killed 32 students and injured 17 others in 2007.

Kristina Anderson Talks to WVU Students. 

LiveSafe offers services to corporate businesses, government departments, higher education, and just students in general. As for college campuses, West Virginia University in particular, this app seems like it could really benefit the safety of the students and all other members of the campus community.

Check out what the WVU Police are saying about this new app:

The app would allow users to:

  • Report an anonymous tip (photo, video and text options) about a suspicious act taking place.
  • Call campus police or 911 in an emergency situation.
  • View a map of Morgantown with the latest information on crimes that have been reported over a specific length of time.
  • Notify friends in real-time of your location and safety through a one-button monitoring service or an electronic escort service.

West Virginia University Police Chief, Bob Roberts, shared his thoughts on the app and how it will benefit this campus, “The LiveSafe App will help to open the communication lines between WVU Police and our community to help prevent crimes across campus,” Roberts said. “LiveSafe allows every community member with a smart phone the opportunity to have a direct connection with police at all times to help assure the safety of our citizens.” Along with how users of the app can communicate with police regarding crimes or suspicious activity in the area, the agency was aware that a lot of people are skeptical about doing this because they don’t want their names to be know in case they ask them to come in and make statements, act as witnesses, etc., so they made it so that the app is completley anonymous for its users.

I also had the opportunity to hear University Police Sergeant, Jeffrey Wright, speak in one of my classes about the app and how they are beginning the launch of it on our campus. He mentioned the app and what it is used for, but he focused more strongly on a certain feature that the app offers, which is called WalkSafe. The WalkSafe feature would allow students to send an invitation to one of their friends when they are leaving downtown, walking home, or just walking anywhere, particularly during the night time or early morning hours, where more crime is likely to take place. This would allow whoever you invite, to virtually walk you home and to make sure you get to your destination safely. It does this by connecting your location to google maps, so whoever you send your invitation to can follow you on the app, and ultimately make sure that you got to your intended destination safely.

This app seems to have the potential to be very beneficial on our campus, as walking home after a late night of drinking; could lead to a series of problems. It appears to have made positive impacts on other college campuses across the country, and WVU would definitely fall into that category due to its partying reputation. Since most students on college campuses now have smart phones, it is as simple as downloading it; it’s free and it provides protection, I don’t see a reason for this not to work.


Understanding Social Media Endorsement Guidelines Imposed by the FTC

The Federal Trade Commission has updated already existing laws that force companies who are being endorsed on social media to make it clear that they are still advertising. In a recent incident, Cole Haan Shoes found themselves in trouble after being investigated by the FTC for a potential violation of these guidelines on a Pinterest campaign that they ran last year.

Image result for ftc endorsement guidelines


The campaign required contestants to make Pinterest boards titled “Wandering Sole,” that included: five images from Cole Hann’s Wandering Sole Pinterest Board, five images of the contestant’s favorite places to wander; as well as including the hashtag “#WanderingSole” in each pin description. Finally, Cole Haan promised an award of a $1,000 shopping spree to the contestant with the most creative entry.

The problem was that, in the eyes of the FTC, this was an endorsement and should have been properly labeled as such. Just simply including the hashtag, “#WanderingSoul”, would not suffice. This is because average Pinterest users seeing these pins would not reasonably be able to understand that these were being pinned because of a contest. Cole Haan did not instruct contestants to make it clear that they were pinning Cole Haan products because of a contest and the chance to win a $1,000 dollar shopping spree.

If I had to relate the FTC’s reasoning for being concerned over something like this, I would relate it to a hypothetical situation where a company might pay people to tell everyone that they love this (hypothetical company’s) products, and how great they are, but instruct them not to mention that the company paid them to say that. That’s the way I look at it, and I think it makes it a little easier to understand.

Since the FTC had not mentioned whether this type of entry in a contest on social media could be considered a material connection, they did not take any action of enforcement, but rather warned Cole Haan of their concerns. Cole Haan recently addressed the FTC’s concerns, and adopted a new social media policy.

It’s kind of scary for companies, because something as simple and innocent as this could land them in a lot of legal and financial trouble. I will be interested to see if this new guideline imposed the FTC becomes even more stricter with its policies.

Communistic Social Media.

Roskomnadzor (Russia’s state internet regulator) posted a status update about an already-existing Russian law on internet memes, after a recent lawsuit sparked controversy.

In a recap, Russia’s laws have been getting stricter and stricter when it comes to social media use by its citizens, in this case, their use of memes. In Russia, the law is in regards to parodying public figures on social media. The law prohibits Russian citizens from “using a photo of a public figure to embody a popular internet meme which has nothing to do with the celebrity’s personality.”

When Roskomnadzor first posted the status update, many people reported that the government was trying to put a ban on all memes, but that is not the case. The status update actually had a meme on it, which was a picture of the Morpheus character from the Matrix films with the words “What If I Told You…That You Are Fake,” posing as a restatement of Russia’s relatively restrictive internet laws when it comes to parodying public figures on social media.

Although, recent news has proved that celebrity memes are not allowed either, if it depicts the individual in a fashion that is not consistent with their character. The status update came as a response to a recent lawsuit, where Valeriy Syutkin, a popular Russian singer, sued Lurkmore (a popular website that publishes information about memes) because it posted a photo of the singer, which was deemed illegal. The court ruled in favor of Syutkin, and the judged ordered that Roskomnadzor make their status update clarifying the “personal data” law, to warn citizens that this can happen to them.

The photo of Syutkin included an obscene phrase “Smack that Bitch in the Face,” which are lyrics used in a song by another popular Russian artist. The meme was used in Russian social media circles as a way to gain victory in arguments against women by glorifying violence against them. Syutkin is known for his songs being rather romantic, and did not want to be related to this type of violent humor.

The law allows people and companies to sue for damages to their reputation, which makes it at least partly a defamation law. These types of laws are on the books in different forms in various countries all over the world. Russia has been in the spotlight lately for being overly restrictive with their internet laws, but this seems to be a fairly just law that a lot of countries use to a certain extent.

Also, it still does not mean that Russia is keeping a very close eye on the content that all of its citizens are publishing on social media, and it doesn’t mean that they are going to throw them in jail. The person being defamed has to first file a complaint with Roskomnadzor, before the agency can file a lawsuit. But the government does want websites to store all of its citizens data on servers that are physically located within the Russian Federation, forcing Google to shutter its engineering offices in the region. The Putin administration recently raided a foreign e-business operator, which most likely prompted Google to take its actions due to vulnerability.

While some of the laws and actions that the Putin-led government of the Russian Federation seem to be overly strict and obtrusive, the recent buzz on Syutkin’s case has rerouted my mindset that the Russian government is a dictatorship. I think Syutkin’s case was a just, and well deserved victory.

I can understand the Russian government’s stance on this type of law because some meme’s can really have a devastating effect on people, whether they are celebrities, public figures, or just regular citizens. In the united states, our roots go deep with freedom of speech, and that’s part of what makes us America. I can see the other side of it though, it’s all fun and games until it happens to you. A recent story about a mother in Marlyand who had a daughter with a rare life threatening disease that made her look disfigured, decided to upload a photo of her daughter onto Facebook. You can probably guess what happened next. That photo got shared all over social media, and thousands of people made rude remarks that were just plain bullying. So I can definitely understand why Russia would enact this type of law, because it protects innocent people from being completely humiliated on a national and sometimes global level.

At the same time, I can also understand why people don’t want us adapt similar internet laws such as Russia’s, because we do live in a free country, and we are all aware of the freedom of speech. So if you are going to post a picture on to Facebook or any other kind of social media of your daughter who has a rare disease that makes her look disfigured, you should already be aware of the consequences that might produce. Asking for a law that allows someone to sue for defamatory memes, is almost like saying “they made fun of me, they should pay me money.” Don’t post pictures of things that other people can use to bully you, it’s as simple as that. I have no stance on the matter, but I can definitely see both sides’ points of view on it.

While Russia’s law has surprised me in the fact that it is helping people from being defamed, I can’t help but think if it has something to do with all of the Putin-themed memes out there. I wouldn’t be surprised if the law is just a way to stop government-directed memes, by making it sound like they care about everyone else in their country too. I will be interested to see if the Russian government will continue to grow stricter with their internet laws, or if it will find a medium between fair and obtrusive.

More Police Authorities Following the Social Media Route

It looks like Tampa police aren’t the only ones using social media to fight crime, recent news shows that the county, city, and university police in the state of Iowa are following a similar path. Unlike Tampa, police authorities in Iowa don’t have their own official social media, but they are engaging in social media that the public uses everyday to help fight crime.

In Woodbury County, Iowa, Sheriff Dave Drew spoke about how even though social media can help humanize law enforcement, there can also be several pros and cons as more and more law enforcement agencies across the nation start to turn to social media to investigate and solve cases. Drew used an example when they were investigating a case where a man was impersonating an officer, and victims of the suspect described their encounters on Facebook, which created a many additional conversations from the public before the police could ever release any information they had conducted during their own investigation.

Police say pros outweigh cons of social media

The Associated Press

In some instances, police might consider that a bad thing, because the suspect can also see that information and go into hiding. Although, Drew said that is not always a bad thing. He explained how most people these days choose not to call the police with information regarding cases, and instead, take to social media to share their concerns. In a humorous statement, Drew explained how it is funny how people do not choose to call authorities, and instead go to social media, because that is how law enforcement is learning a new alternative to obtain information.

The original idea of it being bad to share these kinds of information on social media has now turned in to a good thing. Drew explained how more information is better than none. “We put that information out ourselves knowing that this person could go into hiding, what we want people to do is share that information.” It makes sense, a person who committed a crime like the one above is most likely to go into hiding anyways, with the word being spread around social media, everyone reading it can be on the lookout, virtually making it impossible for the person to be in hiding for very long because everyone is aware if it and talking about.

This idea brings to light the recent case if Eric Frein, a man in Pennsylvania who shot two state troopers, killing one of them. Sure, that man was on the run for weeks, but everyone knew about him, leaving him no where else to hide but the forest, which allowed the police to pinpoint him and close in on him slowly to the point where he had no where else to go. If he had of left the forest and tried to hide on the streets, there’s no doubt he would have been spotted by someone with all of the online content that was being shared nationwide.

Iowa State University has also been using social media to communicate with the public. They recently posted on Facebook about a missing person, and people shared that information over 500 times. It helps because authorities in police departments that do use social media are constantly monitoring it, which allows them to read what the public has to say and also provides them the ability to respond and answer questions quickly.

With more and more people using social media these days, instead of watching the news, I think it is starting a trend that will be used more often in the future of police investigations. Instead of individuals calling police and giving them their own information, they can just post it on social media and also see what information everybody else has to offer. It helps with the overall publicity of the investigation, because if one person posts information on social media on a lead, and another person sees that and can relate to it or add more information, it makes it much easier to put the information together. It just adds to the overall communication, which in turn, helps police uncover information that they might not have already known.

It looks like more police authorities across the United States are starting to follow this trend, and it seems like it is heading in a beneficial direction. Although the benefits of this trend are clear, I’m sure there are still so consequences to it as well. I think this will be the future of police investigations, but I will be interested to see how they work out the kinks.

Florida Public Law Enforcement Obtains Their Own Social Media

Law enforcement in Tampa, Florida have started a trend that the rest of their region has started to pick up, and maybe other law enforcement agencies should too, because it seems to be working for them. Street Smart, originally called SafeCop, is what they are calling it, and it’s basically a new type of social media for law enforcement.

Law enforcement in the area can update and share bulletins, allowing them to accomplish cases much quicker. The social media site originated in the Tampa police department, but now has expanded to the entire Tampa Bay area, making it the first region in the state of Florida to have their own law enforcement social media.

Street Smart is not only drawing in attention from other regions in the state, law enforcement representatives from Delaware, Indiana, and Kansas have all visited Tampa to learn how it works and how they can use it in their own departments and practice.

The new software is part of the Focus on Four Plan, which has four components:

1. Redistribution of Tactical Resources: The area was divided into three geographical divisions, and Street Smart helps keep each division informed of occurring crimes and leads.

2. Intelligence-Led Policing: Street Smart allows officers to tracking and following crimes as they occur at a much faster rate.

3. Proactive and Preventative Policing Initiatives: Crime reduction goals are posted for the Tampa Police Department in a department-wide way through the software, so that they can all view them and vest their careers in the same initiatives.

4. Partnering with the Community: Already established police work was combined into a better approachable way, enhancing communication throughout the area.

It seems like Street Smart has really been benefiting the Tampa Bay area, I will be interested to see if other state and local law enforcement agencies follow in their foot steps.

New Law Restricts Employers in Tennessee from Certain Requirements Regarding Employees’ Online Activity

Completely opposite from one of my earlier posts where public schools were allowed to request usernames and passwords of their students’ social media accounts; a new law in Tennessee prohibits such requirements of employers.  There’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts that have been given to Tennessee employers that explains what is now legally acceptable to require from employees, and what is not.

Tennessee Governor, Bill Haslam, signed the new legislation that gives employees more privacy to their online activity. However, employers aren’t completely bound from requesting access to their employees’ online activity. If employees are using online accounts that are being used for business purposes such as LexisNexus, or company intranet email, they can still be required to give up that information and be willing to cooperate in any investigation if necessary.

East Tennessee State University Dean of Students, Jeff Howard, said that he agrees with the new law, saying “I think it offers employees and employers some protection and maintains a freedom of speech area for everybody,” but also adding that he still encourages students to be careful by what they post on the internet in order to maintain a positive personal and professional outlook.

Although this is indeed new state legislation, it does not impose a punishment or penalty on employees who refuse to accept it. However, under the state’s Public Protection Act, they could be subject to a whistleblower claim if they were to terminate an employee following an “impermissible inquiry.”



UVA Students Go to Social Media Over Brutal Beating by ABC

I recent arrest has risen concern over the University of Virginia and city of Charlotesville, Virginia after an African American student was arrested during the early morning hours of St. Patricks Day at a local pub. Student witnesses alleged that the student, Martese Johnson, who was a junior at the university showed no signs of resisting when pulled aside by the Virginia ABC officers after being turned down by the pub’s bouncer for attempting to enter with a fake I.D. This event happened only months after the Michael Brown shooting in Missouri sparked great controversy nationwide. Members of a black student alliance, an organization separate from the university; along with other students from the university have taken to social media to raise the awareness of the event.

It seems like a lot of things like this have been happening lately. Not only with police brutality towards African Americans, but the Virginia ABC unit in the Charlottesville area of the state in general. Just last year, another UVA student whom was a female got harassed by ABC agents because they thought she had purchased liquor illegally, but she had actually just purchased bottles of sparkling water. That too, was taken to social media helping the conversation make its way to nationwide.

Even though the media and news have been covering these events, it was the students who were there at the scene taking videos and posting them to social media that truly made the story as big as it is. If wasn’t for social media, we wouldn’t have been able to see what actually occurred at that moment as quickly as we did. This story is still ongoing, and I will continue to follow it.

Newly Proposed Law would Enable Family Members to Gain Access to Social Media Accounts of the Deceased

The Privacy Expectation Afterlife and Choices Act, or AB 691, is a new bill proposed by Assemblyman Ian Calderon. The new bill, if passed, would allow social media users to decide whether they want to keep their accounts private or to allow family members access to them after they have deceased. Not only would it apply to social media; but to e-mail, audio recordings, photos, and any other type of digital communication. Facebook is one social media site that already allows family members to gain access to the accounts of deceased family members, but not every site is like that, and families are forced to take these social networking sites or online companies to court; causing them both financial and emotional burdens.

“Today, a significant portion of the information about our lives is kept online on our personal accounts,” said Calderon. He explained how all of this information is private and is considered to be our own personal records, and individuals should have the right to decide whether that remains private or not, and whose hands it can fall into. Currently, most online companies are the ones that manage the issues involving online privacy settings, and that leaves family members with limited options to access that information.

What AB 691 would basically do, is keep our private information safeguarded from the public, and would only allow access to those individuals in which we deem should have access to it once we die. In other words, it would give us the right to choose whether we want all of our information kept private from everyone, or give us the option to allow those we feel close to to have access to it.

It makes since that people wouldn’t want anyone to have access to their information, because it’s private, period. Calderon is saying that online companies shouldn’t be the ones making these decisions, the holders of the accounts should. If the bill passes, the authorization would be some type of online setting with a written declaration describing what an individual’s intentions with their online information are once they are dead.

After reviewing this new topic, I agree with Assemblyman Calderon’s bill. Twenty years ago, most of our personal information and documents would be kept in a filing cabinet allowing family members access to it, but with today’s society increasingly using digital media, it would only make since to take that into consideration. One question that I thought of when reading about this was what would happen in the case of a suicide? If a person committed suicide and declared that no one (even family members) have access to their online information, what would happen then? I feel like in that kind situation (since suicide is technically illegal), family members and law enforcement should have some kind of way to override that and gain access. I will be interested to see how this bill plays out in congress.

Public Education Gets Rights to Student’s Social Media

More and more institutions are using social media to run background checks, and to simply view people’s personal lives.  Recently, employers have been the number one users of this type of information viewing, but now in some states, public school districts and universities can too; Illinois is one of these states, enacting it into law on January 1st of this year.

This newly enacted law would be used to view evidence of cyber bullying, social media harassment, and violations of school policies whether the evidence was posted during or after school hours. Some parents are happy about this, but some say the law goes too far; concerning privacy issues. The old state legislature allowed schools to seek information regarding cyber bullying if it occurred on school grounds, but now that is not the case, they are allowed to check for any forms of cyber bullying whether it happened on school grounds or not; further allowing them to take disciplinary action.

One of those privacy concerns would be that not only can the school force the student or students’ parents to show the school authorities their social media profiles, but they would also have the right to have them hand over their passwords. However, school authorities cannot just go randomly snooping across their students social media profiles. They have to notify the students or parents that they will be doing so “if they have reasonable cause to believe they have broken a school rule, or are expected of cyber bullying.”

Even though cyber bullying is a very big problem in schools today (mainly before college), it still seems kind of unconstitutional to me, and a lot of parents of these students share the same opinion. My only question that doesn’t appear to be answered is, what happens when these children or parents refuse to provide the account passwords? Will the matter be taken in to law enforcement authorities? That’s what it is looking like will be the case, I guess we will see how this plays out.