After receiving a “minor in possession of alcohol” charge during spring break 2011, Alex felt helpless and didn’t know where to turn for answers with avoiding trouble. Ticketed for having a bottle of unopened liquor in his car, the third-year business student wanted the incident off his record. Dissatisfied with suggestions from law enforcement to just pay the fine and accept the charge, Alex took matters into his own hands.
He did some research and learned about laws and offenses, as well as AEP (Alcohol Education Program), which is designed for first-time offenders with alcohol related charges. Participating in the program allows one the ability to file for the destruction of said charge. Enduring the repercussions of his own encounter with underage drinking got Alex’s business-oriented mind to scheming.
“So many people go through this and after looking online, I realized there was nothing out there to help,” Alex says. “I decided to create something to help people.”
Thus, DrinkingTicket was born. It began as a legal self-help website that posted information about relevant laws but has evolved into a whole different animal. In addition to the website, DrinkingTicket now has a Twitter with a cult-like following as well as a guidebook. An iPhone application is also in the works. It has grown so rapidly in merely one year that Alex has sought out employees to hire. DrinkingTicket now has an executive board, solely comprised of USC students, in addition to a team of private lawyers and a third party contractor that is creating the application. Most of the company’s publicity and success has come from the Twitter account, @DrinkingTicket, which boasts over 8,300 followers, and gains 30 to 50 more each day. Anyone in the Twitterverse can tweet at the account about police whereabouts, whether it be downtown or hiding in a speed trap. @DrinkingTicket then retweets the locations, helping masses avoid the fuzz. However, @DrinkingTicket doesn’t release every tip.
“The speed traps we tweet about are absolutely not the only ones out there,” Alex says. “We only report police activity that affects students. We get all kinds of tips, from Irmo to Lexington, but students aren’t as concerned with that information. If we learn about criminal activity, though, we’ll tweet it because it affects students.”
One anonymous USC follower shares a positive opinion of DrinkingTicket with G&B.
“I use it all the time and I love that it lets me know which nights are okay to go downtown,” the student says. “If they tweet a lot, I know the bars are going to be raided.”
Another student follower explains that @DrinkingTicket even helps at home.
“Since the cops have been raiding my apartment complex lately, it helps me stay safe in case I throw a party or walk to a friends’ place with booze,” the student says. “It makes me more aware of my surroundings and the possibility that I might be near police.”
Hold up a minute. Isn’t this considered breaking the law? Something must be going on here that isn’t technically allowed.
“Because the information comes from people who see the police, it’s considered public knowledge,” second-year criminal justice student Emma Hicks explains.
Emma also explains that underage followers who may be downtown drinking illegally and tweet about police activity cannot be charged for anything. A person must be physically caught in the act of doing something illegal to be ticketed or arrested. A word to the wise, however: Emma stressed that people must be extremely careful about their online activity.
“Police peruse social media to see where people are going,” Emma says. “If they learn about a party, they will likely follow up and will then have reasonable suspicion for further investigation.”
The police are definitely aware of the company, telling Alex, “turn it off, and to stop doing it.” But he’s obviously not. And Alex certainly doesn’t seem worried about legal issues.
“We won’t have a problem with a law enforcement agency. Controversy like that could spark a First Amendment issue that could make national headlines. They know what we’re doing but can’t stop it.”
Although DrinkingTicket isn’t breaking the law, does its existence diminish the authority of those enforcing it? A USC police officer we questioned was unable to give his opinion of DrinkingTicket. When we asked Alex if he felt any guilt about his business, his response was surprising.
“People are going to break the law no matter what, and students are going to drink before they are 21,” Alex says. “We’re providing a service that allows people to be safe and have fun. My friends will see us tweet about DUI checkpoints, and they won’t drive. They’ll get a ride with someone else or take a taxi.”
Maybe DrinkingTicket will play a role in solving the problem of destructive drinking-and-driving. Only time will tell if it helps or hinders, especially with the anticipation/forecast/prediction that the company will take off once its iPhone and Droid applications launch this fall. G&B got the exclusive scoop, learning that the app will be released in three phases, each about two months apart. More features will be added in each phase, amplifying both its resourcefulness and popularity. Incoming freshmen will begin their college experience with something most college kids could, as little as a year ago, have only dreamt of.
In addition to the app, keep a look out for the DrinkingTicket guidebook in campus bookstores. Similar to Sparknotes in terms of size and helpfulness, it outlines information about underage drinking tickets, possessing illegal substances and the charges that one can face. It explains how these charges will affect scholarships, suggests diversion programs and even gives a list of attorneys to contact.
This operation is definitely one to watch. It has already begun to expand, with branches at Clemson, NC State and College of Charleston. Students at numerous other universities are begging for branches of their own. If the company spreads as fast as their tweets do, it could very well become the next social media craze. Download the app this fall to avoid ending your night in the drunk tank. Proceed with caution however, student eyes aren’t the only ones on the lookout.