TAMPA (FOX 13) - Often, the first way people learn about violent events happening throughout the world is through social media.
We're taking a look at how cell phone cameras are playing a key role in police investigations and how much more the public now gets to see with their own eyes.
This week alone, social media placed us on the front lines of shootings throughout the country. In Louisiana, a cell phone captured the struggle leading to the police shooting of Alton Sterling, after it was reported he threatened someone with a gun.
In Minnesota, Facebook users watched live, inside the car with Philando Castile after he was shot during a traffic stop. His girlfriend calmly spoke to the officer as Castile bled next to her. It's been seen more than 5 million times.
And, from Dallas, gunfire echoed around the world in real time as police fought off shooting suspect Micah Johnson, who killed 5 officers.
"News has become something that's gathered by citizen journalists because everyone has a cell phone with a video camera in it.," said attorney James McGuire of Thomas & LoCicero.
McGuire, a Tampa attorney, is experienced in First Amendment and social media cases. He said it used to be one person's word against another's. Now, cell phones and police body cameras gather true video evidence while live streaming apps turn millions into witnesses.
"We've had incidents of crimes or police brutality being caught on video and then shortly thereafter, they get uploaded and people can see them," McGuire said. "But, to have it happening live from someone who is participating in the event and acting as a citizen journalist at the same time is really unprecedented."
It all has to be done legally. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which oversees Florida, ruled the First Amendment protects peoples' right to record police on public property as long as they're not impeding the investigation.
"What you can't do is you can't intrude into someone's privacy," McGuire said.
The American Civil Liberties Union says police can not confiscate or demand to see photos or videos without a warrant. And, under no circumstances, can they delete them.
"The video tells the story in a very different way. It doesn't lie. It provides you an eyewitness account of what was there," McGuire said.
McGuire does offer some words of caution. While video shared online can be extremely helpful in investigations, it may not always show the full story.
"If you videoed a criminal event or something like that and then you somehow manipulated the video, edited it to create the appearance of something different happening, then you get into some problems areas because the video you are putting out is a false statement that could lead to a defamation claim," McGuire said. "Generally speaking, we are not seeing that because the events themselves are so outrageous on their own that people simply show what really happened."