To Catch a Drinker: Police Sting Operation on Facebook

Imagine a situation out of “To Catch a Predator,” but instead of trying to bust people soliciting underage sex they bust college students for underage drinking.

That’s exactly what the police department in La Crosse, Wisconsin is doing.

The La Crosse police department set up a fake Facebook account for an attractive female student and began sending friend requests to University of Wisconsin students who were under 21. If a student accepted the friend request, the police would scour through that person’s photos looking for evidence of them consuming alcohol. The police then contact the student, and since at that age the authority of a police officer seems unquestionable, many respond:

Mr. Luebker faced similar questioning, and both said they now regretted even responding to the officer’s request to meet. Both had friends who were also drinking in Facebook pictures, but who didn’t talk to the officer and were never ticketed.

When Mr. Luebker and two of his friends were contacted, they said, they were worried what would happen if they didn’t talk to the officer. “We were scared, like, Oh crap,” he said. “I wish I would have said, No, it’s a stupid idea. That’s what you’ve been taught, since ever. Do what the authority tells you to do.”

I think that our generation is about to face a privacy clash.

For many, a Facebook profile is their own personal space where they hang out with friends. Sneaking around someone’s profile is like sneaking around their room. Those that started using Facebook early on knew that everyone on the site had a college email address, leading to an habitual false sense of security . Since then Facebook’s popularity has exploded and has opened up to everyone, but old habits die hard.

It can take a long time to use all of the new privacy settings and organize people into lists of who can see what, and many people have never even attempted to configure them, but now may be a good time to take a crack at it.

Police officers, debt collectors, college administrators, potential employers, and others are now using Facebook to track you down or find dirt on you. We need to be more careful, so I leave you with a couple of things to remember:

  • Don’t blanket-accept friend requests – You may have your privacy settings set so that only friends can view your profile, but that isn’t stopping people from sneaking in. Make sure you have an idea about who a person is that is requesting you. The most common espionage account is for an attractive young woman. At a minimum create a list with full limited profile and stick these people in it if for some reason you feel compelled to accept them.
  • Don’t post things you don’t want people to see – Regardless of how strong your privacy settings are, once something is on the internet, it’s pretty much there forever. I also suggest being very selective in who can see pictures tagged of you.

Personally I think that what the police is doing in La Crosse is ridiculous and a waste of resources, but it’s going to keep happening and in more places.

What are your thoughts on these Facebook sting operations and/or Facebook privacy?