The popularity and near necessity of social media sites has grown tremendously in the last few years, helping small businesses make connections, giving freelancers and students the chance to network with people they’d never be able to meet otherwise, and allow a place for all kinds of interest groups to chat and make friends online–from gardeners to book lovers to sports junkies. There is a dangerous and corrupt side to social media creators and users; however, and the ability to create fake profiles and violate privacy and copyright rules is still more than possible. Read below for 25 of the most shocking crimes in social media history.
Copyright, Hacking and Blackmail
From Facebook’s big lawsuits to MySpace hackers demanding pay-back from celebrities, these copyright, privacy and blackmail cases can get ugly.
- ConnectU vs. Facebook: Facebook founders Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, Andrew McCollum and Christopher Hughes got in big trouble in 2007 when their former Harvard friends filed a lawsuit claiming that Facebook was a rip-off of their brand ConnectU. Zuckerberg did programming work for ConnectU during its start up and is accused of stealing the business model and basic codes to form Facebook. Because Facebook is such a popular social media site, the case garnered a lot of attention, but ConnectU’s charges of copyright infringement didn’t hold much weight, since "the majority of the allegations date back to the days before either Facebook or ConnectU was a formal corporation," according to CNET UK. In April 2008, though, Facebook settled, awarding ConnectU founders "an undisclosed sum of cash and stock," Boston.com reported.
- Miss New Jersey blackmail case: During the summer of 2007, then Miss New Jersey Amy Polumbo was scandalized when private Facebook photos were published in tabloids. The pictures were acquired as part of a blackmail attempt and featured Polumbo in PG-13 poses with her boyfriend and drinking at parties. The Miss America organization did not decide to dethrone Polumbo, but she decided to release the photos herself anyway, to clear the air.
- Facebook vs. Montreal spammer: In November 2008, Facebook won its CAN-SPAM lawsuit against Canadian Adam Guerbuez, a spammer who clogged account holders’ pages with pornographic websites and other unsavory pitches. Guerbuez and the 26 others accused of spamming Facebook users were found guilty, and Facebook was awarded $873 million.
- Chang v. Virgin Mobile USA, LLC: In January 2009, a Texas teenager and her mother sued Virgin Mobile for using one of her personal photos uploaded on Flickr for an Australian advertisement. The lawsuit insisted that Allison Chang’s right of publicity had been exploited and that the use of her photo violated the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license she attached to her photo. The case was thrown out due to a discrepancy in jurisdiction, and no court could decide where to hold the case.
- Allison Stokke vs. WithLeather.com: Allison Stokke was just a regular California pole vaulter ready to start college when she became a sex symbol and Internet sensation after the blog WithLeather.com posted her photo. The photo in question was taken during a competition and showed Stokke resting with her pole across her shoulder in a skimpy, but standard, track and field uniform. After the photo was featured online by various bloggers, Stokke received thousands of MySpace messages and e-mails and had a competition video posted on YouTube. The Washington Post reports that the photo eventually found its way to Matt Ufford of WithLeather.com, who wrote, "meet pole vaulter Allison Stokke. . . . Hubba hubba and other grunting sounds." The original photographer threatened to sue Ufford and someone even created a fake Facebook page for Stokke–which was eventually taken down–but no criminal charges could ever be filed.
- Twitter hijacking: Twitter users generally enjoy a pretty straightforward social media experience, but a scam in 2008 hacked major celebrity accounts, including Bill O’Reilly, Barack Obama and Britney Spears. CNN anchor Rick Sanchez’s account was also hacked and featured fake tweets that said "i am high on crack right now might not be coming into work today." Gawker’s ValleyWag points out that this scam was virtually pointless, as the hackers didn’t profit financially from the phishing.
- Facebook phishing scam: This phishing scam posted messages on users’ profiles warning friends that they were going to delete their profiles and that friends should click on a link to the new profile. The new profile link, however, was really a fake login page that tricked Facebook users into logging in and letting hackers steal their information.
- Soulja Boy vs. MySpace hackers: Soulja Boy got mad when his MySpace was hacked and e-mail password was published online. The hackers left obscene messages on his MySpace page "where Soulja Boy purportedly declared his homosexuality" and insulted fans. The rapper was scammed by members of 4chan, who demanded that Soulja Boy pay them $2,500 "in order to regain control over his account," Cyber Crimes reports. Soulja Boy’s record company contacted MySpace, who returned his account.
- Miley Cyrus MySpace hacker: Teen actress and singer Miley Cyrus has had her share of scandals, and when her MySpace page was hacked and photos of her midriff were circulated around the Internet, parents got mad. But whatever you think of Miley, her hacker Josh Holly was the real one to blame and was eventually caught in an FBI raid on October 2008.
- Shaun Harrison and Saverio Mondelli: Long Island friends Shaun Harrison and Saverio Mondelli were caught when they tried to track MySpace users through e-mail by creating their own code, demanding that the social media network pay them $150,000 as a consulting fee. Under their plan, MySpace users would be able to view the IP and e-mail addresses of all the visitors to their profile, but MySpace’s terms of agreement prevents that sort of monitoring. MSNBC reports that "two counts of attempted extortion and another illegal computer access count were dropped in the deal," however.
- Universal vs. MySpace: In November 2006, Universal Music Group sued MySpace for copyright infringement. Universal claimed that "that Myspace has looked the other way as users unlawfully uploaded copyright music videos," and facilitated the easy spread of unlawful music sharing across the site, according to CNET News. Although MySpace had already been trying to cut back on copyright infringement for music sharing, Universal believed that MySpace was still exploiting artists and the company.
- Facebook v. Power.com: This lawsuit is shocking according to TechDirt because it simply doesn’t make sense. Facebook sued Power.com, a social networking aggregator that lets users manage all of their social media profiles at once, for copyright and trademark infringement, unlawful competition and violation of the computer fraud and abuse act. According to TechDirt, Power.com does not try to trick anyone to believing they are using the original Facebook and actually serves to "actually improve the value of Facebook, rather than diminish it."
Sex Crimes, Assault and Murder
Tragically, social media sites like MySpace serve as an easy venue for sex predators and bullies to track their victims. These grisly crimes have affected innocent teenagers and kids.
- Megan Meier suicide: The tragic suicide of Missouri teenager Megan Meier was a top news story in 2006 and 2007. Meier was the victim of a prank that involved a classmate’s mother, Lori Drew, who set up a fake MySpace account and pretended to be a boy named Josh, who befriended Meier online. Drew apparently wanted to know whether or not Meier was gossiping about her own daughter and became close with her under false pretenses. "Josh" eventually said "he didn’t want to be [Meier's] friend anymore, that he had heard she wasn’t nice to her friends," according to Fox News. "Josh" continued to post messages taunting Meier, even calling her "fat" and a "slut." Meier hanged herself in her bedroom, and six weeks later, her parents found out about the fraudulent MySpace account. In May 2008, Drew was indicted on three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress, and one count of criminal conspiracy, according to Wikipedia.
- Middletown, CT, sex assaults: In 2006, seven teenage girls from Middletown, CT, reported to authorities that they had had consensual sex or engaged in sexual relations "with men who turned out to be older than they claimed," according to MSNBC. The girls, all under the age of 18 and as young as 12, met the men on MySpace.
- Kara Borden and David Ludwig: Pennsylvania teenager Kara Borden had to run away from home after she watched her boyfriend, David Ludwig shoot and kill her parents. The pair were tracked down by people who found their MySpace profiles and Xanga blog, and left obscene messages on their pages. Both Kara and David’s social media pages served as a platform for the public and journalists to speculate over their innocence or guilt.
- Doe v. MySpace: In this case, a minor and her mother sued MySpace after she was sexually assaulted by a nineteen-year-old man she contacted on the social media site. The lawsuit claimed that MySpace did not support or protect minors from predators, but it was eventually dismissed from Texas and New York federal courts.
- Judy Cajuste murder: Judy Cajuste’s murder is another example of MySpace predators who take advantage of vulnerable teens online. In January 2006, 14-year-old Cajuste was strangled to death in New Jersey and dumped in a dumpster. Friends believe Cajuste had already met the man offline before he allegedly killed her, saying that "she felt comfortable with him," already.
- The Olivia Haters Club: The new phenomenon called cyber bullying was the focus of a thirteen-year-old girl’s existence in 2006. Olivia Gardner has epilepsy, and inspired a mean girls’ club called "Olivia Haters" that kids from her middle school set up on MySpace. Gardner’s family could not charge the girls with any sort of crime, but it was still a shocking revelation for them.
- Teens charged with child pornography: Teenagers aren’t immune from being charged with child pornography, and in March 2006 in Providence, RI, 19-year-old Elizabeth Muller and a 16-year-old girl were charged for uploading pornographic pictures of themselves on MySpace.
- Lewis & Clark College sex assault: The campus at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR, became involved in a complicated sex assault case after sophomore Helen Hunter reported being sexually assaulted. In response to the assault, students set up a Facebook group that gossiped about the case and posted hostile messages towards her alleged assaulter, Morgan Shaw-Fox, even though Hunter never submitted a formal complaint. After Shaw-Fox made his own complaint about the Facebook page, he was suspended but never charged with a crime.
- Michael Macalindong blackmail and child pornography: In October 2008, Michael Macalindong was sentenced to 34 years in federal prison for posing as a teenage girl, soliciting a teenage boy, and trying to blackmail him for not posting sexual videos of himself on Facebook. After striking up a friendship with the boy, the Chicago Tribune reports that Macalindong, 25, "told the teen he could have sex with her" but only if the teen had sex with her male friend first. Macalindong was that male "friend," police said.
- Fontana, CA MySpace sting: California teenagers who set up a fake MySpace profile as a joke ended up luring a sex predator and having him arrested. The boys created a fake profile for a 15-year-old girl, which attracted a man who sent sexually explicit message to "her." Eventually, the boys agreed to meet the man in a park, "and, when the man arrived, they called police," according to MSNBC.
- Andrew Lubrano: Wired writer Kevin Poulsen created a code that would find sex predators on MySpace, a controversial tactic that actually helped catch Andrew Lubrano. Lubrano was arrested and convicted of sex crimes in the 1980s and 90s but was eventually released. In 2005, he signed up for MySpace, where he found teenage boys to "friend." Poulsen directed Long Island police to Lubrano’s page, letting them conduct an investigation, which results in his arrest.
- Amanda Knoble shooting: Cyber bullying became an almost-deadly reality for Amanda Knoble in 2008, when another teenage girl, 15-year-old Andrea Haskins, threatened to kill her in a message on MySpace. Haskins shot Knoble in the leg after sending her the message and was charged as an adult for attempted first-degree intentional homicide.
- Florida teens beat-down: This serious beating of a teenage girl started on MySpace. The victim’s father, reports ABC News 24, says the girls wanted to create a video that would become popular on You Tube. But the mother of one of the arrested teens says the victim provoked the attack by threatening and insulting the girls on My Space. The victim was jumped by six girls who gave her a concussion, bruises and injured her eye and ear while two boys stood watch. All eight teenagers were arrested.