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Uberti: Tale of the tweets from Babylon hate crime suspects

Left to right, Shane Buckley, 18, Justin Buckley,

Left to right, Shane Buckley, 18, Justin Buckley, 17, Gregory Gilbert, 20 and Nicholas Battaglia, 18, all from Oceanside, have been charged with third-degree assault as a hate crime and second-degree gang assault, Suffolk police said. (July 22, 2013) Credit: SCPD

As news of four Oceanside teens charged with a hate crime broke this past weekend, their Twitter accounts were disabled, helping to shelter them from public scrutiny and backlash.

A search of Twitter shows the suspects’ accounts were active until the day before the alleged incident. Tweets directed toward Nicholas Battaglia, Gregory Gilbert and brothers Shane and Justin Buckley, continued as late as July 20, only hours before they allegedly beat two passersby in Babylon while yelling anti-gay slurs.

The two men were taken to Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, where one was treated for a broken nose. 

Though the suspects’ full Twitter accounts are now disabled for public viewing, Google’s cached copies of the profiles show a limited number of past posts, providing a narrow window through which to view them. 

They’re kids, and like typical young men, they tweet rap lyrics, celebrate nights of partying and boast of new tattoos. Shane Buckley, younger brother of Lance Cpl. Greg Buckley, a Marine shot and killed in Afghanistan last summer, tweeted, “11 months since the one thing I thought would never happen to me. Losing my brother forever, I love you and miss you every day.”

But other posts don’t exactly reinforce lawyers’ and parents’ defense of the teens in wake of the allegations.

The appearance of “fagit” on Gilbert’s feed probably won’t help his case. Neither will tweets from Justin Buckley’s handle including “queers” and the proclamation, “If any kid from Oceanside tries talking to my ex gf, I know who you are I'm going to ——— your days up when I get home.” Battaglia’s profile features a retweeted post from a friend declaring, “I legit hate some people by just seeing a pic of them and never even meeting them.”

Evidence of a homophobic agenda? Probably not. But that question could be revisited in court. They are charged with various degrees of assault as a hate crime.

Social media have become tightly interwoven with all aspects of everyday life, and legal matters are no exception. Verified posts on Twitter and Facebook are now commonly used as evidence in court, particularly in cases involving marital disputes and personal injuries.

In 2011, for example, a Virginia judge fined Isaiah Lester and his lawyer $722,000 for concealing evidence after discovering they had scrubbed select Facebook posts. Lester deleted a photo in which he was drinking beer and wearing an “I [love] hot moms” T-shirt. The picture was taken after Lester’s wife died in a car accident, but before a jury awarded him a $6-million wrongful death settlement.

It’s unclear whether social media will play a role in the Babylon hate crime case.

Nevertheless, it’s yet another cautionary tale of what 140-character thoughts you should keep offline. As for your favorite rap lyric, that’s probably safe.