What you post on MySpace or Facebook may not just embarrass you in front of your colleagues, it could also be used against you in court. If that's not a scary enough thought, just imagine if you were a police officer and your credibility came down to a few words snarkily posted on MySpace. This is what's happening to officer Vaughan Ettienne, whose MySpace and Facebook profiles—along with comments made on various videos—have been subpoenaed by the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn as part of a case accusing him of police brutality.
While on duty, Ettienne had chased down an ex-con on a stolen motorcycle who was allegedly carrying a loaded gun and a bag of ammunition. The man, who was on parole from a burglary conviction, was eventually taken down and arrested by Ettienne and his partner. However, the suspect proceeded to accuse Ettienne of planting the loaded gun on him in order to justify a brutal beating that resulted in the breakage of three ribs.
What does this have to do with the Internet? Ettienne, who had made no attempt to mask his identity online, had set his MySpace status to "Devious" just a day before the alleged beating. His Facebook status was set to "Vaughan is watching ‘Training Day’ to brush up on proper police procedure." Worst of all, Ettienne posted a comment on a (Warning: NSFW porn ads in link) video of a police officer punching a suspect that read (in part), "If he wanted to tune him up some he shoulda delayed cuffing him. [...] And if you WERE gonna hit a cuffed suspect at least get your moneys worth cause now he's gonna get disciplined for a f*gg*t ass love tap!"
Needless to say, these things combined did not bode well for Ettienne's defense.
Unsurprisingly, Ettienne claims that his comments online were nothing but locker room talk. "You have your Internet persona, and you have what you actually do on the street," Ettienne told the New York Times. "What you say on the Internet is all bravado talk, like what you say in a locker room. I’m not going to say it was the best of things to do in retrospect." It most certainly was not, and the jury in the case eventually acquitted the suspect of the possession charge, which Ettienne admits might have been partially his fault.
This is one of the more extreme cases of bad Internet judgment, but it's certainly not the first. Experts have been warning people for years to curb the crazy, outrageous, and sometimes incriminating things they post online, as it can affect their ability to get (or keep) a job. Certain professions are more sensitive to it than others, too—in addition to police officers, teachers and other public servants are subject to more intense scrutiny than most. Ettienne's case is just the latest stark reminder that, when in doubt, keep your questionable photos and snarky comments offline.