Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Never issue terror or death threats on social networks in either jest or anger


What you post online remains online? Occasionally, these posts transcend the thinly veiled line of bad humor into the threats Americans fear most; shootings in school and terror attacks.  Catching the attention of the law, these words haunt their teenage authors in dark and lonely prison cells where they wait out their sentences. 
In India, the line is crossed when politicians feel defamed or religious communities have their sensitivities offended. Posts that criticize politicians never fail to instigate mobs of vigilante party workers.  Two girls who wrote and liked a banal post attracted the wrath of overzealous party men and police officers who quickly filed criminal charges. Petitions, media outrage and an alert Indian judiciary fuelled quick justice in a country where cases can languish for years, making the girls instant celebrities of free speech.
As I read the passionate appeal of an American father whose son lies imprisoned for posting a threat to shoot kids at his school, it struck me how difficult it was to accurately preempt a crime from an interpretation of an online comment. The parents and boy argue that the comment was innocent and nothing more than a trashy rap line written in haste after a tiff with another online video gamer. The law thought otherwise.
Threats of death or harm from cyber trolls and cyber bullies are more common. Coming from strangers and friends alike, these comments create feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation among teens.
Drawing the line on gross misdemeanors on social networks requires a tolerant and compassionate judiciary, police, parents and teachers. Institutions that must balance soft alternatives such as awareness, education, warnings and community service with the stricter punishment of jail sentences.
Milder posts, which do not attract much attention, may however haunt children when they apply to schools or for a job or even in their relationship with teachers. In a recent survey, 53%of teens reported posting something online which they subsequently deleted for being mean or disclosing personal information about themselves.
photo credit: .m for matthijs via photopin cc

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