The Disturbing Ties Between Social Media and Crime

The Disturbing Ties Between Social Media and Crime

The joke you just posted on Facebook may be funny to some and offensive to others. Maybe you enjoy trolling people because you think their reactions are amusing. Could your social media interactions be construed as cybercrimes? Verhaeghe Law Office would like you to think twice before you post.

Is This a Crime?

A popular prank is to log in to someone’s social media account and post as them on their wall, timeline, or thread. Presumably, because it is intended to be a joke, it is something the person wouldn’t normally say or share. By pretending to be that person, you are committing identity theft. Depending on the consequences of your actions, the person you have pranked could sue.

Bullying online takes many forms. Defamation is spreading information that can hurt someone’s reputation. Posted online for all to see, this is libelous and can be subject to a lawsuit. Defamatory libel can result in up to five years in prison. While you may think your actions are funny or that you are just joking, your “victim” and others reading your posts may consider it to be bullying.

Catfishing, or pretending to be someone you are not, is also considered cyberbullying.

These behaviors may seem socially acceptable because they are online, but think before you engage. Could what you’re saying be construed as a threat? Negatively affect someone’s reputation? Ruin a relationship? Result in suicide?

Over-Sharing & Confessions

Participating in post-crime online behaviors of criminals may not be a crime in itself, but it can negatively affect the outcome of a criminal investigation. We have become so inured to the pervasive nature of social media that we post and interact with people who crave attention, even in the form of performance crimes. In 2017, a woman was found stabbed to death in her Ontario apartment. Shortly after the murder, her former boyfriend allegedly posted a detailed confession on Reddit, a popular social media site. He wrote “his side” of the story, claiming self-defense and shock. He linked to photos of the two of them as a couple and continued to update during his run from authorities.

Reddit users were anxious to comment with advice to run or turn himself in. Straight from the headlines to a Reddit thread, users couldn’t wait to express their opinions and to interact with the “celebrity” online. Are we so embedded in the celebrity culture of social media that we are inoculated against the fact that we are interacting with killers?

In 2015, a woman murdered her father-in-law and posted a selfie holding a bloody knife, followed by another one with a gun on her lap that implied a suicide plan.

Both of these people were apprehended, but it’s disturbing that social media played a major part in attention-seeking after the crimes. And that there was a flood of users commenting with damnation, praise, and advice.

Social Media & Criminal Justice

Social media can be used to blame the victim of a crime. Take the example of the Kardashian robbery in 2016. It didn’t take long for people to begin posting that the crime was fake, that Kim Kardashian “deserved it,” and that maybe she would change her “bad behavior” that caused it.

Creating groups dedicated to the derision of accused individuals, often referred to as “hate groups,” and sharing photos of people accused of crimes can seriously affect the ability of the criminal justice system to provide a fair trial. “Trial by social media” is becoming an ever-larger concern.

Appropriate Use

It may be tempting to use social media to express thoughts and ideas. Remember that your comments are given without context, tone, or any way to interpret your intentions. Stay away from posting as someone else or committing defamation by libel. A prank could end up being a lot more than you bargained for. Keep in mind that engaging with accused criminals may be feeding into their pathology and encouraging them.

Your online actions are your own. Be responsible. If you are the victim of a social media crime, or if you have questions about cybercrime, contact Verhaeghe Law Office at 587-410-2500.

When Does Influence Become Paid Manipulation?

When Does Influence Become Paid Manipulation?

Between constant notifications and scrolling through various feeds during downtime, it’s not shocking that social media plays a strong, active role in most of our lives.

More and more businesses are noticing this, too. You might see advertisements in between pictures of your friends and family. While many people can ignore those pesky ads, what’s harder to ignore is when your favorite celebrity, blogger, or social media personality is subtly endorsing products in their posts. Are they talking about a certain clothing designer, shoes or food-related products? If they are, then they are considered an “influencer.”

A Deeper Look Into What an Influencer Is

By definition, an influencer is an online personality who shares opinions and advice about various types of products and services. These individuals could have a large advertising following, or “audience,” but some might have a small following. Influencer marketing isn’t just about giveaways or promotions―it can be as subtle as tagging the clothing brand the influencer may be wearing in the post.

Why is Influencer Marketing a Bad Thing?

The products they advertise can be misleading in any way shape or form. It also begs the question of, “Is this person posting about this product because they actually like it or because they’re being paid to advertise it?” You follow these people because you admire or aspire to be them in some shape or form. Their ingenuity can create a lack of trust.

Does this form of advertising on social media fall under the same legal regulation as other forms of advertising? It sure does. Under the Competition Act , any influencer must acknowledge they have a relationship with the advertiser, which indicates an exchange of materials and not necessarily money. Not communicating the relationship the influencer has with the advertiser prevents people from discerning what’s authentic and what is paid for, commonly referred to as misleading, or deceptive, marketing.

To avoid expensive legal actions, here are ways influencers can legally promote a brand and what consumers can look out for.

1. Visual disclosures

2. Acknowledgement of connections in each individual post

3. Disclosure is attached to post, so it stays when post is shared

4. Word and image content is appropriate

5. Reviews must be from actual experience

Remember, influencers don’t need to be celebrities. They can have 200 followers, or two million. What’s important to remember is when there is a promotion for an exchange of goods, there needs to be a disclosure.

At Verhaeghe Law Office, our lawyers specialize in corporate and commercial law, and we like to keep our clients well-versed in the legalities of relevant issues.

As a consumer, the next time you’re scrolling through and see your favorite blogger promoting their favorite skin serum, look to see if there is any indication for a paid advertisement. Does their post say #ad, #sponsored, or in partnership? If not, now you know why that can be a breach of trust and lead to legal issues down the road.

To learn more about the legal services we offer, please contact us by calling (587) 410-2500 today.

Probate and Your Will

Probate and Your Will

Have you written your will? Do you understand the complexities of probate and how to avoid it? It’s important to understand what is involved in disbursing the assets to the intended beneficiaries. If you need assistance writing a will that will avoid lengthy probate, call us at 587-410-2500 to find out how we can help.

In Canada, almost all wills are briefly probated to establish validity if there is an estate. For the purposes of this blog, we are discussing the Administration (extended probate) process necessary for those who die without a will.

Probate is the process taken on by the court to manage all of your legal and financial matters after your death if you do not have a will with a designated executor. The main problems associated with probate are time and money.

The Hazards of Probate

People who die without a will are said to have died intestate. Without a will to indicate your preferences for distributing your assets, the court will put your entire estate into Administration (probate). This will tie up all of your assets for an undetermined length of time. This time may be compounded by issues such as mortgages on a home that need to be paid, homeowners insurance for a home that is now vacant, and other expenses. The court-appointed administrator will need to ensure these payments in addition to their distribution responsibilities. During this time, probate fees are applied against the assets and can consume a significant percentage of the estate. In some cases, the estate may become completely drained just paying the expenses and related probate fees. The probate process may take up to a year.

For estates in Adminstration, the court appoints an administrator to manage the funds, pay the bills, and distribute the estate. This may not be your spouse, child, or family member. When distribution is determined, it may not be in a way that you would have preferred. Your spouse or children will not automatically get a certain percentage or an equal amount. In some cases, there are distribution plans from Provincial courts that are not at all what you would have wanted.

You don’t have to be wealthy to run into issues with Adminitration. If you have assets and you want your family to receive them, your best defense is a good offense. Write a will.

The Best Ways to Avoid Probate

Put Assets in Joint Accounts

  • Joint financial accounts are not subject to probate. The right of survivorship applies and the account will automatically go to the joint account holder.
  • Add a joint owner to home and car titles. Keep in mind that this gives the joint owner the ability to take out loans against property. Any decisions you wish to make will require their cooperation.

List Beneficiaries on Applicable Assets

  • Life insurance policies with listed beneficiaries go the person you have named and are not considered part of the estate (unless you have listed “estate” as the beneficiary).
  • Financial accounts with beneficiaries already named are not included in your estate.
  • RRSPs or TFSA with named beneficiaries are not subject to probate fees.

Reduce the Size of Your Estate

  • Put your money into registered accounts, such as RRSPs
  • Change financial accounts to joint accounts with rights to survivorship
  • Gift assets in legally acceptable amounts to your intended beneficiaries while you are alive

Write a Will

  • The best way to avoid probate fees is to write a will with the aid of an experienced wills and estates lawyer. By making your wishes clear in a will prepared by a lawyer, your estate will not be subject to a prolonged probate, especially if no-contest provisions are included.
  • Keep in mind that a will is a legal document and is available to the public during probate. Never include information that would compromise the estate, such as passwords to online accounts.

The key to ensuring that your assets go to whom you wish and that your estate not be tied up in probate is to write a will. Contact Verhaeghe Law Office to write your will today. 587-410-2500