From inappropriate comments about young children to threatening to shoot up a school, there have been a plethora of instances where teenagers and adults have discovered that what they say on the internet is being taken seriously by law enforcement. In these instances, the posts on Facebook or Twitter were intended to be sarcastic, but the harsh nature of the language perpetuated legal responses. To many, any law enforcement action in response to these posts is an evident violation of First Amendment rights, which ensures freedom of speech.
While I agree that people have the right to say whatever they please, in a world where shootings, terrorist attacks, and other violent actions are realistic threats to society, I understand the visceral reaction law enforcement bodies have to these posts. It is reasonable for the threats to be investigated in order to ensure that there are no sinister intentions. However, the imprisonment of most of these individuals is just unnecessary. Instead, teens need to be educated of the great impact your posts on the internet can have in addition to the great consequences. Whenever you put your name to something on the web, it is there forever for people to see. Sarcastic remarks about killing someone may seem trivial to you; but as mentioned before, the structure of modern society does not permit such loose talk.
A 15-year-old Chicago teen was arrested and charged with a felony after he posted on his Twitter account that he would commit "mass murder" if George Zimmerman was found not guilty, which he later was.
The boy's message was reported to both the FBI and the local Zion Police Department. His name is being withheld due to his status as a minor.
One of the most prominent cases is that of 19-year-old Justin Carter, who was thrown in jail for making a Facebook comment referring to shooting up a kindergarten.
"I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten... And watch the blood of the innocent rain down...And eat the beating heart of one of them."
The teenager had been in jail since February 2013 until recent anonymous donor posted his $500,000 bail. An avid gamer, Carter allegedly got into an online fight with another League of Legends player. There have been multiple petitions in favor of releasing Justin, some of which have received 100,000 signatures. He and his parents maintain that the comments were meant to be "sarcastic."
The 18-year-old High School student in Massachusetts was arrested and jailed for three weeks after posting rap lyrics to Facebook. The lyrics suggested that he wanted to outshine the actions of the Boston Marathon bombings.
"I’m not in reality, So when u see me [bleeping] go insane and make the news, the paper, and the [bleeping] federal house of horror known as the white house, Don’t [bleeping] cry or be worried because all YOU people [bleeping] caused this [bleep].
[Bleep] a boston bominb wait till u see the [bleep] I do, I’ma be famous rapping, and beat every murder charge that comes across me!"
He was charged with "communicating terroristic threats," a charge that could result in up to 20 years in prison. Those who have defended him say that it was merely an artistic expression. A petition was signed by over 50,000 people. The charges have since been dismissed.
After he made inappropriate comments regarding a 5-year-old, the British teenager found himself spending three months in prison. His Facebook comments were as such:
"I woke up this morning in the back of a transit van with two beautiful little girls, I found April in a hopeless place." and "Who in their right mind would abduct a ginger kid?"
Apparently, an angry mob showed up at his house even though he had apologized, stating that he was drunk during the time he made the post. At his sentencing, his comments were called "a disgusting and despicable crime which the bench finds completely abhorrent."
When Paula Asher disregarded a court order to delete an offensive Facebook post, a judge sentenced her a 2-day jail stay for contempt of court. The 18-year-old posted on the social media site about her reckless driving after she hit another car carrying 4 passengers. "My dumb (expletive) got a dui and I hit a car…lol,” she posted. She later apologized. "I didn't think 'lol' would put me in jail."
Paul Chambers did not take well to the cancellation of his flight after heavy snowfall at the Robin Hood Airport in the U.K. (yes, it is actually called that). To express his displeasure, Chambers took to Twitter, referencing the airport by saying "You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"
About a week later, he was arrested under the Terrorism Act and was interrogated for over seven hours.
This has to be one of the more outrageous examples. When David Voelkert was friended by Jessica Studebaker on Facebook, he knew the profile was fabricated by his ex-wife Angela. She created the profile in an effort to garner incriminating evidence against him in a child custody battle. Voelkert told the fake Studebaker that he had placed a GPS tracking device in his ex-wife's car so that he could track her and eventually kill her. Angela brought the evidence to the police, who swiftly arrested Voelkert. However, Voelkert had gotten a notarized affidavit that read:
"I am lying to this person [Jessica Studebaker] to gain positive proof that it is indeed my ex-wife trying to again tamper in my life. In no way do I have plans to leave with my children or do any harm to Angela Dawn Voelkert or anyone else."
He was immediately set free.
These two friends were met by armed guards after landing at Los Angeles International Airport in January 2012. After Leigh Van Bryan tweeted another friend asking for some preparation before he was going to "go and destroy America," the travel pair had their passports detained and was interrogated by Homeland security agents for hours. The confusion resulted from the term "destroy" being British slang for "party." Bryan said that "the Homeland Security agents [treated] me like some kind of terrorist." After spending the night in separate cells, the pair were put on a plane back home.