social networking sites.
In February, a Scranton Prep senior was charged with terroristic threats because he posted a Twitter message claiming he was going to "blow up" two area schools.
No bomb was found, but his record and name -- criminally and online -- are now smeared.
Social media have a dark side, as Lackawanna County Judge Robert Mazzoni said Thursday at a sentencing for a fatal stabbing. A fight on Facebook provided two men with a forum to arrange a physical fight at a Jessup park in November 2011. Dylan Michael Ostrowski, 21, of Carbondale, was sentenced to 4 1/2 to 9 years Thursday for the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Lawrence Atkinson.
Judge Mazzoni said if the men had not been electronically communicating that day in 2011, the crime that followed would have not taken place.
Police have made numerous arrests for crimes committed on social media sites. Arrests are easy, because the evidence is posted and can be more implicating than leaning on the reliability of a witness' memory, experts said.
"Social media is the 21st century witness to a crime," said Joshua L. Brunty, an assistant professor of digital forensics at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va.
Mr. Brunty, who recently co-wrote the book, "Social Media Investigation for Law Enforcement," said digital forensics is generating the same level of excitement today as DNA testing did when it first came onto the scene.
Clues are endless -- photos, videos and words, all stored on Web servers indefinitely.
"You're looking at a very reliable witness and evidence, and the courts are asking for that sort of evidence because it's so reliable," Mr. Brunty said.
For example, investigators now comb through a suspect's friends list on Facebook to be able to later interview them and hopefully develop corroborative evidence, Mr. Brunty said. A network of their associates is available with a single click.
There are controversial techniques that are still playing out in the courts. Investigators have turned online friends into confidential informants so they can access suspects' private Facebook pages, Mr. Brunty said. Undercover detectives have "friended" suspects to get access to their pages.
"You don't know if that's an undercover detective" among your 600 friends, he said.
Police are also using social media to get help find fugitives.
A month ago, Blakely police began posting the names of those with active warrants on their Facebook page. Within 24 hours, they cleared 32 warrants.
"It's an embarrassment " Blakely police Chief Guy Salerno said. "They saw their name, went up to the magistrate's office. In the weeks since, we have still had success."
Dickson City police have used Facebook to solve a recent rash of "gallon-smashing" incidents in which pranksters stageg falls and smash large beverage containers in grocery stores. After police posted surveillance footage of the people involved in the vandalism at the Dickson City Target and Wegman's, several of the participants turned themselves in.
"It's becoming a good asset for us," Dickson City Police Chief William Bilinski said. "We've been able to post photos and the public really takes an interest in trying to help. This is a great way to get the public involved."
(c)2013 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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