In 2021, Darrell Brooks was accused of deliberately driving his SUV into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin — which left six people dead and 62 people injured. Brooks was arrested and arraigned on six counts of first-degree murder and countless other charges, including reckless endangerment.
The trial lasted for over three weeks, during which Brooks fired his lawyer, acted as his own attorney, and cross-examined victims of the attack he perpetrated. He also clashed with Judge Jennifer Dorow who presided over the case, arguing over court processes and claiming that the laws of the United States don’t apply to him because he is a “sovereign citizen”.
But the strangest thing happened when someone who claimed to be a juror in the Brooks’ trial posted about the case on Reddit — which directly violates court rules that jurors should not use social media during a trial. The anonymous post was published on a subreddit called r/Justice4Darrell, which mainly consisted of people who supported Brooks.
Image Source: Mashable
This anonymous user claimed that while they believed that Brooks was guilty, they don’t think he was given a fair trial. The person also pushed that the jury should pronounce Brooks not guilty as a result.
This post was taken so seriously that it became part of the courtroom proceedings and briefly hijacked the trial. Not too long after, the Redditor admitted that the post was a prank and that they’re, in fact, not a juror.
Although the subreddit was banned and Judge Dorow didn’t let the post derail the trial, this shows trolls how much havoc fake Reddit (and social media) posts can cause.
How Would Bosco Investigators Determine That a Post is Fake?
When the court found out about the fake Reddit post on the Darrell Brooks case, Judge Dorow handed it over to law enforcement for investigation. Because this case was so high profile, it’s likely that law enforcement actually got involved; however, typically law enforcement does not have the time or expertise to investigate fake social media accounts.
While Bosco typically specializes in civil investigations, they also have experience in working with law enforcement in criminal matters and the process for tracking down fake accounts is virtually the same. When Bosco investigators are informed about a potentially fake Reddit (or any other social media) post, here’s how they’d go about getting to the root of it:
1. Flush Out the Details From the Reddit User’s Page
First, Bosco investigators will visit the Reddit user’s page and see what information they can find. Then they’d piece everything together to figure out if the post is legit or not. They’d look out for:
The Date the Account Was Created
Many trolls open brand-new accounts to create fake posts for a specific purpose. If a Reddit account is brand new or was created close to the date the post went live, there’s a good chance it might be fake. That being said, some trolls have operated with the same account for years, so the investigators will not rule out the possibility that the post is fake solely because the account is old.
Activity On the Account
Bosco investigators will also check for the level of activity on the account. If the user created a new Reddit account solely to publish the post, there’s a good chance that there’s little to no previous activity on the account. This denotes that the post is likely fake. A high level of activity increases the likelihood that the account is legitimate and/or traceable.
Review the Content of the Post Itself
In the case of Darrell Brooks, Reddit users were doubtful about the legitimacy of the post because of how nonspecific the post was. The details were sketchy, the references were dubious, and there were no unique pointers that proved that the poster was actually a juror in the case. These were astute observations and ones always important to the overall analysis. If a Reddit post addresses a sensitive situation but has unclear or nonspecific details that anyone can make up, it’s probably fake.
Review Past Posts & Comments
If a Reddit post is suspected to be fake, but the posting account has been live for some time, investigators can use previous posts by the account holder and comments to determine who the user is. They’ll check for mentions of kids or family members, mention landmarks around their living location, jobs, favorite places to go, and more. Investigators will use this information to develop a profile of the user, which they’ll then use to trace the person should the post be confirmed fake and/or harmful.
Cross-Reference the Reddit User Against Other Social Platforms
If the user posted the content on Reddit, chances are they posted it, or similar content on other social media platforms too. Bosco investigators will cross-reference the Redditor’s username on other platforms, where they may be less guarded, to see if they can find extra information about the user — date of birth, spouse, business name, or even photos.
2. Check the Time the Post Went Live
In the Darrell Brooks case, the court determined that the Reddit post wasn’t made by an actual juror because the jury was deliberating and didn’t have access to their devices when the culprit edited the post.
Bosco investigators would do the same. They’d check if the court was in session or if jurors had access to internet-connected devices at the time the post went live. If the court was in session and jurors weren’t with their devices, it’s likely that the post is fake and was made by an imposter.
3. Get Search Warrants
After covering these bases and fleshing out a profile of the user, Bosco investigators would work with court officials to issue a search warrant to Reddit.
Note that in a criminal case like this, it would be a search warrant. In a civil case, it would be a subpoena, but the function of these discovery instruments is ultimately the same.
A Search Warrant for the IP Address Used to Create the Reddit Account in Question
In response to that search warrant (or subpoena), it is anticipated that the records from Reddit would include all login/logout IP addresses associated with the account in question, as well as the phone number and email address they registered with. That information can be run through a variety of investigative databases to tie it back to a physical address and/or an actual person.
If the individual behind the account was doing an especially good job at hiding their identity and those details did not appear in the databases, another search warrant could be issued for the same details from the email and phone provider, as well as the physical address associated with the IP address.
It might also be worth noting that one technique that can often be utilized in cases where getting a search warrant or subpoena is less practical, is setting up an electronic “tripwire” to identify the IP address of the bad actor. These “tripwires” are essentially trackers that can be embedded into messages that when the message is viewed, capture the IP address of the person reading the message.
A Search Warrant for the Physical Address
Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Charter Communications, are in charge of managing which IP address goes to which physical address. This means that once the ISP is served with a properly executed court order, they can usually provide the exact street address or location a particular message came from.
If they get the personal address of the user, it’ll be easy for the investigators to meet the occupant(s) and determine if it’s the actual juror, a potential associate, or a completely unrelated individual. They’ll interview the person and obtain a confession — which is easy to get once they present the person with evidence (i.e. the Reddit post), or continue collecting evidence to weed out the bad actor. The investigators may also obtain a search warrant for the devices in the home to trace the post back to a particular device.
If the investigators get the address for a public location such as a library or Starbucks with free Wi-Fi access, they’ll review surveillance footage at the times surrounding when the post went live and interview any employees for potential leads.
Reddit posts — or social media posts — about ongoing legal cases can cause serious problems if not handled properly, especially if the post is prejudicial in nature. In the Darrell Brooks’ case, the fake Reddit post delayed the trial. It could have hijacked the trial completely or, worse, caused the jury to pronounce Brooks not guilty if they believed the trial wasn’t fair (as the post claimed).
According to the law, jurors could face up to two years in jail if they search the internet for information about a case or post about the proceedings of the case on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and LinkedIn.
On the other hand, if someone impersonates a juror and posts about a court case, they may be held in contempt of court and may go to prison and/or pay a fine — depending on what the judge decides.
What Are the Benefits of Tracing a Fake Post on Reddit?
Tracing a fake post on Reddit (or other social platforms) has two major benefits, which are:
- The poster or platform is forced to take it down once investigators make it public that the post is fake. This reduces the number of people, including jurors, that see it and form an opinion based on the content of the post.
- The post won’t become part of court proceedings or hijack the trial. Instead, the trial will go smoothly because the judge will ask the jury to disregard the content of the post (if they’d seen it before).
Hire a Social Media Investigation Team
To prevent a fake Reddit post from causing havoc, you should hire investigators to prove the authorship and authenticity of the post.
Bosco Legal Services has expert investigators for this purpose. Our social media investigators help businesses, law firms, and insurance companies to verify whether social media posts are real or not. We use state-of-the-art software and discovery practices to efficiently extract and preserve the information you need.
We provide social media investigations nationwide, so if you need the services of our social media investigators, call our office at (877) 353-8281 to discuss your needs. You can also fill out our online contact form and someone will be in touch with you soon.