An Illinois woman was issued a $50 fine last week after a forest preserve protection officer took her Facebook comment to mean she was breaking the law — by using a dog park without a permit.
The woman commented on a post from a local dog owner about dogs in the area experiencing kennel cough after visiting the Whalon Lake Dog Park. Her comment: “I was feeling bad that I haven’t bought a pass and been bringing Ginger there but I’m pretty glad I haven’t. So not going to worry about it until later. I hope all the doggies get better soon.”
Someone sent the comment to an officer, who contacted the woman and issued her a ticket for using the dog park without a permit. The officer sent her a letter stating she had "knowingly entered a dog park without a valid 2014 permit," citing her Facebook comment as proof.
As it turns out, she had not been there since 2013. She fought the ticket, and it was rescinded. “The employee had good intentions, but it wasn’t a good idea,” said Lt. Tracey Phillips.
The case opened a larger can of worms for the police department. Others began worrying that the police are monitoring social media, and could issue citations or search for criminals via Facebook. District Executive Director Marcy DeMauro said the police department does not monitor social media activity, and instead treat any information they receive from Facebook as a tip "that has to be verified."
Treating Facebook posts as tips seems to be the general rule for police departments and in some cases, these e-tips have helped save lives. (And not just protect parks from non-permitted pooches.) In 2012, two men were caught discussing setting up deadly booby traps on hiking trails through their Facebook chats. Police departments have also put up their "most wanted" lists on Facebook, which led to the arrest of Dustin McCombs, who commented on his own most wanted photo.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.