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  • Writer's pictureRobin Lyons

Social Media Privacy

At the time of this post, there has been talk on mainstream news about a TikTok ban imposed by the United States government. And as much talk that banning social media would violate our right to free speech.

Here’s an interesting true crime case that adds another way to consider the free speech we enjoy and how other countries may take advantage of what we share on social media. Let me preface this case summary with the fact that I’m not taking a position on the subject.

In the United States, we have several options for sharing on social media platforms—some are large platforms, some small and in between. In those social media businesses, there are many employees. Yes, they are businesses seeking to stay profitable. And with most businesses, there is diversity among their employees.

By posting our thoughts, opinions, and personal information, we open ourselves up to critics. Here, there were three employees at a very large social media platform business with users around the globe, based in the USA, who held dual citizenship with a country that shares mutual respect with the USA. Where the foreign country differs from the USA is the right to free speech.

Through communications, the employees who didn’t know each other would become bound by their criminal acts. A representative of the foreign country’s leadership contacted the first employee and offered gifts and money for nonpublic information on people who shared negative content about the foreign country.

This employee accessed the nonpublic information and shared it with the foreign country’s representative for over $300,000 in gifts and money.

After the employee in this case left the business, they recruited two other employees. When the authorities arrested the former employee, the two remaining employees fled the country.

During the two-week trial, one woman testified that her brother ‘went silent’ after posting satirical criticism of the country.

A U.S. Attorney associated with the case said,

“We will not allow U.S. companies or U.S. technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of U.S. law.”

A jury found the former social media employee guilty of acting as an agent of a foreign country, conspiring to commit wire fraud, money laundering, and falsification of records to obstruct investigation.

An FBI special agent associated with the case said,

“The FBI works tirelessly to ensure foreign governments and their agents cannot interfere with the constitutionally protected right to free speech.”

A judge sentenced the 45-year-old to 42 months in federal prison, three years of supervised release after completing his sentence, and forfeiture of over $240,000.

At the sentencing, the judge said,

“Exposing dissent information is a serious offense.”

Source: United States District Court, United States Attorney Office, The Seattle Times

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