As you may have already read, a 31-year-old Miami-area man named Derek Medina has been arrested and charged with murder after allegedly killing his wife and then posting a confession on Facebook. “Im going to prison or death sentence for killing my wife love you guys, miss you guys takecare Facebook people you will see me in the news,” Medina allegedly wrote. Then, as if to make clear that he wasn’t joking, he allegedly posted a photograph of his wife’s dead, bloodied body. Medina later turned himself in to the police.
The story is grotesque, but not entirely unfamiliar. As the world becomes more networked, more people are (intentionally or unintentionally) using social media to confess to otherwise implicate themselves in crimes. So, what should you do if a friend or acquaintance posts a message like Medina’s? This is new territory for all of us, and some semi-professional guidance might be helpful. Here’s a brief guide on how you might handle a few different scenarios.
Scenario: A friend confesses a murder on Facebook, and posts a photograph of his alleged victim.
Do: Call the police in your friend’s town immediately. This is something they should know about, and they should know about it before your friend decides to flee the state or commit suicide, both of which he may well do. Sure, there’s a chance it might all be some sort of weird viral marketing scheme. But let the cops be the one to make that call.
Don’t: Tag the victim in the photograph, or share it to your Facebook wall. A Miami Herald story about the case reports that, soon after the Facebook post went up, “[s]tunned friends began commenting on Medina’s admission. ‘WHAT??????’ said one woman, who later ‘tagged’ her own friend in the death-scene photo. ‘That is my friend.’ Her tag received three ‘likes’ on Facebook.” Sigh.
Scenario: An anonymous Reddit user claims that he killed someone years ago and got away with it. This happened in April, when a Redditor called Naratto used a photo meme known as “Confession Bear” to claim that he had once murdered his sister’s abusive boyfriend. Reddit users were unsure how to react, given the abruptness of Naratto’s confession, and also that the instrument of his confession was a photograph of an adorable bear.
Do: Proceed skeptically. A two-line photo-meme confession isn’t the sort of evidence that would convict someone in court, and it probably isn’t enough for the police to go on. Feel free to try and elicit more details from the user, to see whether the story checks out. If he is forthcoming with more information, consider calling the police.
Don’t: Jump to conclusions and go into full-fledged Miss Marple mode. You are not a professional detective, and the Reddit user is probably making it all up.
Scenario: In a Facebook posting, a friend attempts to hire a hitman. A guy named Corey Christian Adams allegedly did this in 2011 after a girl accused him of raping her at a party. "I got 500 on a girls head who wants that bread?" he allegedly wrote. Unfortunately for him, the cut-rate “hitman” who answered the ad was actually an undercover detective.
Do: Try to determine whether or not he is serious. Some weird people might consider making such a posting as a “hilarious” joke, but that’s all it would be—a joke. If you have any reason to suspect that your friend is not just joking—if, for example, he has a history of violence, or is emotionally unstable, or if he says “Yes” when you ask “Are you serious?”—then you should call the police immediately. And you should maybe consider calling the cops even if you don’t think he’s serious. Because you never know.
Don’t: Decide to go undercover and answer the ad yourself.
Scenario: Your friend posts a Facebook message along the following lines: “Drivin drunk ... classsic ;) but to whoever's vehicle i hit i am sorry. :P”
Do: When an Oregon teenager named Jacob Cox-Brown posted this exact message in January, one of his friends immediately forwarded the message to a local cop. This was the right thing to do.
Don’t: Respond with a post of your own saying “That was my vehicle you hit, and I’m going to spend exactly $500 to hire a hitman to exact my revenge.”