Facebook reports sex assault of Winnipeg teen
WINNIPEG -- Explicit social networking chats that caught the attention of Facebook staff have led to sex assault and Internet luring charges against a Winnipeg man suspected of preying on a girl about half his age.
It's potentially the first time for Winnipeg police that charges have stemmed from concerns flagged first by Facebook, police said, and a case that's considered "unique," according to a local social media lawyer.
Police allege the suspect, aged 25, met and started communicating with a 13-year-old girl on the social networking site in mid-July. The messages turned sexual and were noticed by Facebook.
"Red flags were going up for them left, right and centre," Const. Jason Michalyshen said.
Police couldn't say exactly how Facebook caught on, or what the pair were chatting about.
"It was described as inappropriate activity," Michalyshen said. "There were conversations that could easily be described as explicit."
At some point, the pair arranged to meet and a sexual assault occurred, police said.
Facebook contacted Winnipeg police near the end of July and passed along the information. Detectives got on the case and on Wednesday, police arrested the man.
The case is not one commonly seen in Winnipeg.
"It's a unique case from a legal perspective," said Brian Bowman, a lawyer who specializes in social media.
Many people expect Facebook messages to be secret and personal. Not so.
"In many cases, people believe they have an absolute right to privacy," Bowman said. "Any illusions people had as a right to privacy on Facebook should be shattered."
It's not uncommon for social network sites to monitor key words and flag key words.
Canadian law permits organizations like social networking sites to contact police without users' knowledge or consent.
"It all comes down to whether Facebook had reasonable grounds to believe a crime was about to be committed," said Bowman, who is not involved in the Winnipeg case announced Thursday.
The man is facing charges of sexual assault, sexual interference and luring. He has yet to be formally charged pending a future court date, so Winnipeg police declined to disclose his name.
Police wouldn't say if they knew about the tip of the inappropriate chat before or after the alleged sexual assault.