Perhaps I’m a little paranoid about what I post on my social media pages. I’m a web content writer by trade and understand that anything I put online has the potential to exist in cyberspace forever, whether I delete the original post or not.
Teens aren’t as careful. They tend to act as if Facebook was a private diary. Facebook isn’t Vegas, however, and what happens there doesn’t stay there. Usually we’re talking about embarrassing pictures and obscenity in posts, but occasionally teens post evidence of illegal activities that could follow them for the rest of their lives.
A Dead Pit Bull and Controversy
In February 2013, a teen in Tahlequah, Oklahoma posted a picture of a dead pit bull he allegedly shot with an arrow. The post appeared to come from a cell phone and included a message to “pit bull lovers” that this was what happened to pit bulls coming near the teen’s house.
The image quickly spread across Facebook, promoting outrage. The teen in question took the image off his site, but by then the photo was viral. A second Facebook page went up demanding an investigation in to the dog’s death. You can guess what happened next. A number of people posted in the second Facebook page, issuing threats against both the teen and his family.
A Hurricane of Bad Decisions
I’m not defending the teen in this incident. Boasting about the kill is deplorable. If he did shoot the dog without provocation, he should be charged with animal cruelty. But here’s the thing: he’s not the only person breaking the law here.
The local sheriff made it clear that his department was investigating the incident, but also noted that online threats would be taken seriously. If anything, the law will take those threats more seriously than the dog’s death. Animal cruelty occupies one level of seriousness in the legal system. Death threats exist at an entirely different level.
Anyone who threatened the kid could be found guilty of terroristic threatening, which carries stiff penalties. Which brings me back to my original point: people don’t think before they post.
Online is Not Anonymous
Okay, this is the Internet. I can post about the superiority of 2000 Ford Mustang parts and ignite a flame war ending with people wishing me dead and comparing me to Hitler. This kind of behavior happens, but doesn’t make it right.
Just because what the kid did was cruel and wrong doesn’t make it okay to issue threats. Such threats can come back to haunt you. Even on apparently anonymous forums, it’s possible to trace posts back to real people. On Facebook, you’re using your own name, making threats for the world to see.
The kid, if he did what the picture suggests he did, was wrong and deserves legal punishment. He also deserves a fair trial, not a virtual lynch mob. One teen’s actions could result in many other people facing legal charges. And if that happens, they have no-one to blame but themselves.