A Frankston man in Victoria who narrowly avoided jail after an online party prank backfired has warned of the risks of misusing social media.
What the man thought would be a harmless Facebook hoax led to police intervention and the prospect of jail time and a criminal record when he was charged with stalking two years later.
”Don’t mess around with that sort of stuff,” the man, Michael Davis, said last week, having completed a four-month good behaviour bond as part of his punishment. ”It’s just not worth it. It drags out and takes a massive toll on you.”
In 2010, when he was a teenager, Mr Davis used Facebook to advertise falsely that a party was being held at the home of a rival teen, who had been feuding with Mr Davis’ friend over a girl. He created the Facebook event with an account he set up in the name of Tom Fletcher – frontman of the English pop band McFly, who was supposedly hosting the event.
Thousands of people accepted the Facebook invitation, prompting the targeted teen’s family to contact police. In turn, the police warned via local media that those who turned up for the hoax party would be charged with trespassing.
Some teenagers still showed up and one of Mr Davis’ friends was fined $200 for going to the address.
That appeared to be the end of it, but two years later Mr Davis was charged with stalking, with police saying the hoax had drawn unwanted attention to the targeted teenager and his family.
Police tracked the ISP address used to set up the prank to Mr Davis’ home computer, despite his not having returned to the Facebook page since creating the hoax.
His solicitor, Will Parker, said he was puzzled about why it took police two years to lay charges.
The delay meant that although the hoax was made when Mr Davis was a minor, the matter went to the Magistrates Court because he had since turned 19, putting him at risk of a harsher penalty.
Ultimately, he was accepted into the Criminal Justice Diversion Program, an option for first-time offenders, and avoided jail. He agreed to write a letter of apology to the teen and his family, to donate $400 to beyondblue, and to the bond.
”I thought it would just be a house party, cops would rock up and that would be the end of it,” Mr Davis, now 20, said.
Mr Parker said a key issue in the case, and one he was prepared to fight had his client not been approved for diversion, was whether creating a false party qualified as stalking.
To qualify, there must be multiple acts of stalking that together place the targeted person in fear.
Even though Mr Davis simply created the prank Facebook event, the court viewed the involvement of numerous others as multiple acts on his behalf.
Postings on social media increasingly are being approved as admissible in court procedures, similar to evidence gathered from mobile phones.
Mr Parker’s colleague, Tom Oldfield, said it was justifiable for police to tap social media for evidence because ”it is a modern way people are communicating, which – like any previous form of communication – needs to be subject to law”.
Mr Parker added: ”It is the immediacy of social media that poses this danger in my opinion, because it is just a click of a button.”
Aliyah Stotyn writes for The Citizen (www.thecitizen杭州夜生活.au).
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.