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#Damning evidence: Why criminals can’t resist giving the game away on social media

5 min read

While on the run from authorities, uploading a video of yourself to YouTube may not seem like the brightest of ideas. Yet, that is exactly what Marc Feren Claude Biart did: the Mafia fugitive couldn’t resist posting culinary videos that concealed his face but left his distinctive tattoos on display.

The alleged member of the notorious ’Ndrangheta crime gang was found living in the Dominican Republic town of Boca Chica and was arrested in Milan (inset below) after arriving on a flight from Santo Domingo. Biart, 53, had been on the run since 2014, when Italian prosecutors ordered his arrest for trafficking cocaine in the Netherlands on behalf of the ’Ndrangheta’s Cacciola clan.

But his quiet life in the Caribbean was disrupted after his culinary kitchen videos led the police to him. Biart set up a YouTube channel with his wife to upload clips of him cooking Italian cuisine, where his tattoos made it possible to track his movements across the web and social media, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Cette photographie pr??sente la confection de p??tes artisanales italienne.
The reported mafia fugitive uploaded cooking videso to YouTube (image posed by model) (Photo: Getty)

Biart is far from alone when it comes to being inadvertently caught out by social media. Whitney Beall, aged 23 at the time, was swiftly arrested after she livestreamed herself drunk driving in Florida on broadcast app Periscope in 2016, even telling the camera: “I’m driving home drunk – let’s see if I get a DUI [driving under the influence].”

Content uploaded to social networks can also prove invaluable in solving more complicated crimes, making “digital forensics” a key element in many investigations. Canadian Cheyenne Antoine confessed to the murder of her friend Brittney Gargol in 2015 after police identified the murder weapon in a photograph of the two teenagers uploaded to Facebook hours before Ms Gargol was strangled – a belt. Police matched markings in dirt on Ms Gargol’s car to the webbed pattern of the belt Antoine had been wearing in the photo – the same belt that was found beside her body.

The reasons why criminals upload potentially damning evidence to social media generally fall into two categories: stupidity or malicious intent, explains Dr Jen Hough, lecturer in social science and criminology at Liverpool Hope University.

While some offenders are simply oversharing without thinking, others are using the platforms to further their cause. “If you asked a lot of criminals why they incriminated themselves on social media, I think a lot of them would just say: ‘I just didn’t think,’” she says.

“Social media has become so ingrained in our society and people have become so used to putting themselves out there and constantly uploading photos and videos that they have become becoming desensitised to what they are actually sharing – they might not realise what is in the background of the photo is evidence.”

Police were led to London drug dealer Junior Francis in 2014 by his own “vanity and boasting on social media” after he uploaded selfies posing with wads of cash on Instagram. Officers found £7,000 of cash and £75,000 worth of crack cocaine and heroin in his home, leading to a jail sentence of six years and eight months.

A letter allegedly written by Jack the Ripper and sent to a London news agency on Spetember 25, 1888 is displayed at a press preview of the 'Jack the Ripper and the East End' exhibition at Museum in Docklands, in London, on May 14, 2008. Returning to the scene of London?s most infamous crimes in 'Jack the Ripper and the East End', the exhibition explores the Jack the Ripper murders and their enduring legacy. Visitors can examine orginal documents and artefacts from the investigation and follow the crimes as they unfolded. The exhibition runs until November 2, 2008. AFP PHOTO/Carl de Souza (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images)
A letter allegedly written by Jack the Ripper and sent to a London news agency on Spetember 25, 1888 (Photo: Getty)

Stupidity aside, social media can also provide some criminals with the infamy they seek, giving them a platform to reach potentially billions of people in a way that didn’t exist 15 years ago. While the likes of Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac Killer relied on the police and newspapers to publish the details of their boastful letters, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube allow criminals to cut out the middle man and communicate directly with an audience – a form of performative criminality.

“Although there’s highly likely to be a mental health element in the cases of people who live-stream violent crime, there is also a lot of arrogance at play which tends to come with different forms of psychopathy,” Dr Hough says.

“It’s the arrogance of feeling like you’re not going to get caught and, regardless of social media, the longer people commit crimes they become a bit lax and quite emboldened, such as with the YouTube chef. Ultimately that often leads to their downfall.”

Criminals with an agenda or a manifesto, often linked with terrorist activities, are seeking to reach as many people as possible, meaning they are often prepared to live-stream a single crime. Others, including Craig Lynch, use platforms to find an audience to taunt the police. Lynch was nearing the end of a seven-year sentence for aggravated burglary when he escaped from prison in Suffolk in September 2009, spending the next four months posting pictures of himself ridiculing the police and giving clues to his whereabouts before he was rearrested the following January.

(Original Caption) San Francisco, California: The "Zodiac" killer broke his silence to boast in letters and cryptograms that he has now murdered seven persons.
San Francisco, California: The ‘Zodiac’ killer broke his silence to boast in letters and cryptograms that he had murdered seven people (Photo: Getty)

Part of the problem lies in society’s preoccupation with crime, particularly with violent offences. Lynch managed to gain gained more than 40,000 Facebook fans and a YouTube song dedicated to him before the police managed to apprehend him, and violent live streams are often recorded and recirculated once social media platforms take them down. Criminals know they will have an audience, and social media is the swiftest way to reach them – even if it can quickly result in arrest.

“There’s a real issue in the way society is so fascinated by serial killers, fuelled by documentaries and podcasts that are wildly popular,” Dr Hough says. “It’s one thing to be interested in the way these people work because it’s so against our moral code, but I don’t think this unchecked fascination with grisly crime is a good thing.”

However, the billions of non-criminal social media users in the world could learn from the example set by Biart and others, insofar as what people assume is private online rarely is, she adds.

“People assume a lot of the time that what they’re sharing – even on private profiles – can only be seen by their friends, or they’re not aware that law enforcement and digital experts can easily work out incriminating details. Ultimately, it’s very unlikely you’re going to get away with it.”

All content in this article is for informational purposes only and in no way serves as investment advice. Investing in cryptocurrencies, commodities and stocks is very risky and can lead to capital losses.

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