It's Not Social Media -- It's Evidence

Social media opens up our world in wonderful ways, but it also can bring the world crashing down.

A bragging Tweet, an incriminating bit of video on YouTube or a few unfortunate friend connections on Facebook can expose a lie or even a crime. It's no wonder, then, that police -- and insurance investigators -- are watching.

“What you share or post online, depending on what it is, even has the potential to get you into legal trouble,” says Brent Purves, social media consultant and CEO of Stir Solutions social media agency. “As my mother is wont to say, 'If you wouldn't show it to me, don't share it online.' “

But some people can't keep things to themselves.

A thrill-seeker with the handle Afroduck recently posted video of himself taking a high speed, 26.5-mile jaunt around the edges of Manhattan in 24 minutes - breaking the record he himself already held, he said in an interview with the automotive website Jalopnik. He bragged online that he couldn't be caught.

The New York Police Department used traffic cameras to follow the trail to the driver, whom they charged with reckless driving and five other traffic-related crimes. They also impounded his beloved ride, a 2006 BMW.

Once the legal system is done with him, it's the insurance company's turn.

While car insurers don't use social media as a routine way to screen new customers, calculate rates or cancel policies, consumer analyst Penny Gusner says, anything that turns up in the course of an investigation could ultimately affect your driving record or the status of a claim.

“Reckless driving can be a big hit to your car insurance premiums, but the court has to convict you first,” Gusner says.  “Claims are different.  The insurance company can decide for itself whether you're covered.”

Proof of crime discovered online

Some may consider Afroduck's exploits to be harmless self-expression, but social media has been instrumental as authorities pursue far more serious cases.