It’s tempting to think of the Internet as a safe zone. A lot of us treat it as our most trusted confidante and advisor, and we pour out our thoughts, feelings, and even indiscretions on the most public platforms out there in a stream-of-consciousness-type fashion.
We’ve all seen (or posted) those embarrassingly honest tweets and Facebook posts. But there comes a point when the line between imprudence and sheer stupidity is crossed and real life repercussions come into play.
Here are a few people who learned this lesson the hard way, and tips to avoid following in their footsteps. Note: all of these are common sense.
Common Sense Rule #1: Don’t. Don’t. Don’t Threaten to Kill People
In the vast majority of these cases, the subject decided that threatening the lives of others was an appropriate status update. What they often failed to realize was that “jk” and “lol” aren’t sufficiently comforting to law enforcement when you’ve also just threatened to shoot up a kindergarten and eat your victims’ still beating hearts, as was the case with a 19-year-old Texan named Justin Carter. You might have heard of him.
Carter was arrested in February and after five grueling months in jail, during which time he was beaten by fellow inmates and fell into a depression, he was released on $500k bail. The bail was donated by an anonymous sympathizer.
Common Sense Rule #2: Don’t Facilitate Your Murder-for-Hire Plot on Facebook
Maybe this falls under the umbrella of Rule #1, but while Justin Carter hadn’t actually intended to commit the acts he posted about, in the case of London Eley and Timothy Bynum, their plot to kill Eley’s “baby father,” was captured on Facebook and the two were arrested.
Ironically, the father, Corey White, was shot and killed while the two were in jail, allegedly by coincidence.
Common Sense Rule #3: If You’re Arrested for a DUI (also, don’t drive drunk), Don’t Joke About it on Facebook
If hitting a car with four passengers and getting a DUI wasn’t bad enough, eighteen-year-old Paula Asher made matters worse when she LOL’d about it on Facebook: “My dumb a** got a DUI and hit a car LOL.”
She didn’t delete the post when the judge asked and landed in jail for two days.
The Limits of Freedom of Speech
Barring explicit threats against the lives of others, you can get away with a lot in the US, and that’s actually great. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a place where authorities police every word that comes out of your mouth on a public forum.
You may have heard of the recent military coup that took place in Thailand last month. Well, in addition to imposing curfews and other attacks on civil liberties, the military junta (military-led government) is apparently hunting down naysayers and detaining them.
In the words of police Major General Pisit Paoin, “I want to tell any offenders on social media that police will come get you.”
This was after the arrest of Sombat Boonngam-anong, a social activist who had attempted to organize a peaceful protest against the coup.
Juxtaposing this particular event, where an innocent person was singled out via the Internet and punished by authorities, with the actual crimes above, is meant to be sobering.
The Internet, a Tool for Good and Evil
The Internet is a valuable, powerful tool that everyone should fear—in a healthy, deferential kind of way. It’s capricious and two-faced, a confidante and a snitch, a medium for social movement and a weapon of oppression, divisive while unifying, and a purveyor of both propaganda and information.
How has the Internet filled any of these roles in your life, and what did you learn from it?