Criminals once knew how to keep a low profile.
Today, you’re only notorious if your online status says so.
Like teenage girls, and middle-aged masses looking to reconnect with lost high school flames, society’s lowest elements are also gaining a larger identity through electronic networking.
Now, there’s pressure on social networking sites to purge profiles of known criminals.
Last Christmas, escaped British prisoner Craig "Lazie" Lynch — a 28-year-old, small-time British burglar — hit the upper levels of gangster hierarchy when he taunted police while on the run. He used Facebook to even post a picture of himself, free as a bird, digging into a Christmas turkey.
His brazen anti-social networking behaviour gained him a loyal following — including T-shirts — and an extra 112 days behind bars, after he was caught last month.
His lawyer, Darryl Cherrett, told reporters during the sentencing of his client: “He created a Facebook page perfectly nicely to catch up with old friends.”
Apparently, even criminals need to play Lexulous and keep track of whether their new beefy cellmate’s "single" status has suddenly changed.
But their online reach is also extending back into the lives of victims.
UK advocacy groups have led the world in demanding online providers police sites for criminal elements. This comes after a number of jailed thugs have recently been found to be reaching out from behind bars.
Families United (www.familiesutd.com), a British grassroots movements pushing the UK government to tackle violent crimes, is calling for sites to have "e-Asbos" imposed on bad-guys. They would be anti-social behaviour orders applicable to online networking sites.
With some high level political support, Families United officials plan to soon meet with Facebook executives. In fact, QMI Agency has learned Facebook brass could sit down with British politicians sometime this week.
“Basically, when a criminal is sentenced...they lose their civil liberties,” explains Gary Trowsdale, who helped form Families United.
“If someone goes behind bars, their social liberties should be taken away (as well).”
But it’s not as easy as purging a picture of a cheating ex off your own site. Facebook is used by 350 million people worldwide, and monitoring an endless line of felons — even if social networking sites could resolve privacy issues — would be daunting.
A statement from Facebook to QMI Agency acknowledged: “We are appalled by reports that prisoners are accessing Facebook, and using the site to contact victims’ families.”
They note, prisoners aren’t supposed to have access to social networking sites — though some have done so through smuggled cellphones and by having friends create profiles.
Prompted by the Ministry of Justice in the UK, Facebook has recently removed a number of profiles from convicts who were harassing the families of their victims.
They included Colin Gunn, one of England’s most dangerous gangsters, who used his online profile to threaten foes from inside a maximum-security prison.
One of Gunn’s posts read: “I will be home one day and I can’t wait to look into certain people’s eyes and see the fear of me being there.”
In 2008, Barry Mizen’s teenage son, Jimmy, was killed during a row in a British bakery.
He had turned 16 years old, the day before.
Since his high-school dropout killer was jailed, Jimmy’s dad has been vocal about society’s culture of “anger, selfishness and fear.” He’s also taken up the cause of getting the worst of society off of social networking.
The elder Mizen explains: “One...Twitter comment from the killer of our son, from prison, was to say (our son) was a pathetic loser.
“The stronger personal insults that started to come from the Facebook sites were hurtful and intimidating.”
While he acknowledges the vast majority of social networking is used for the right reasons, he believes there’s not enough self-policing of social media sites, to get rid of even cyber-bullying.
Facebook officials say they take any harassment on their site seriously, adding: “We urge families to report any inappropriate posts so that we can investigate.”
Saying it’s a worldwide problem, grieving dad Barry Mizen adds: “I agree it is almost impossible to stop.
“But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something.”
Child predators on Facebook
Shar Malazdrewicz couldn’t just press the backspace key, after finding profiles of known child predators on social networking sites.
The 45-year-old Winnipeg woman, who works with high-risk youth as well as adults with disabilities in Manitoba, has become an online public defender, trying to get hustlers, felons and criminals off of Facebook.
Here in Canada, unlike the U.K., criminals using social networking sites have not caused a firestorm of public outrage. However, there are quiet online communities looking out for the more notorious names.
They include Malazdrewicz’s Facebook collection of 18,340 members (www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=4836583251) who keep an eye out for the likes of convicted killer Karla Homolka, as well as other child predators.
Many of Malazdrewicz’s tips — especially those involving child predators online — are passed over to cyber-crime police units.
“I stumbled upon many profiles that were presenting themselves as convicted child predators,” she explains in an email exchange with QMI Agency.
She found it disturbing whether the profiles were real, or someone pretending to be a known villain. They include several set up under Homolka’s name or notoriety.
“With over 18,000 people helping me, all doing some small part, it can and will make the difference — I believe that,” she say.
She’s now trying to draft a petition, calling for tough new laws to strip convicted sex offenders or child predators from creating profiles on any social networking site.
Leona Hobbs, vice president of the Toronto based Social Media Group (www.socialmediagroup.com), points out social sites are simply a reflection of society.
“That means, unfortunately, these tools can be used by people who intend to harm,” says Hobbs.
“The cautionary lesson for the rest of us is that when using social networking services, we need to be mindful of our own disclosures about our personal information.”
Notorious on Google
You’re nobody, until you can be Googled.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the more notorious web browsers.
* In January, British pizza maker Renukanth Subramaniam was busted — and entered a reported guilty plea — as the mastermind behind an "eBay for fraudsters." His site, DarkMarket, was an online marketplace, where criminals could buy and sell stolen credit card information as well as pinched PIN numbers.
* Last year, when American vacationers Vanessa Palm and Alexander Rust were on holidays in the Bahamas, they were accused of posted pictures of themselves on Facebook eating an iguana. The animal is a protected species, and authorities pounced.
* A pet shop worker in Ohio bragged on their online profile about drowning rabbits. It didn’t take long before animal welfare watchdogs alerted police.
* Officials in Texas built a case against Robert Fitzgerald, alleging that he’s a graffiti artist whose defaced more than 44 structures in Austin, after comparing the paint markings to those he used to decorate his MySpace page.
* In Iowa, Gamaliet Figueroa reportedly ignored a probation order, and was in possession of a gun. But instead of keeping it quiet, officials say he posted a picture of himself with a weapon on MySpace. His probation officer then saw it.
* A Virginia boutique owner played detective after clothes in her shop began to disappear. She discovered local students, on their Facebook profiles, were wearing the same outfits.
* Wanted by American officials for bank fraud, Maxi Sopo was living the good life in Cancun Mexico last year. He made regular posting to his Facebook profile. But a Secret Service agent was able to log on as a friend, and find out where he was living. Sopo was picked up by Mexican officials soon after.
* Last September, 19-year-old Jonathan Parker, of Fort Loudoun, Pa., was arrested on a burglary charge, after a woman came home to find it ransacked and two rings stolen. Police came knocking on Parker’s door because the woman also allegedly found something curious on her computer after the break-in — Parker’s Facebook account, that had been logged into but not out of.