Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Teen Threatens President via Twitter

Last Thursday night, an Ohio teenager sent a "threatening" tweet suggesting that "Someone needs to assassinate Obama... like ASAP." Several Twitter users picked up on the tweet and reposted it. The next day, it was widely reported that the Secret Service was investigating the girl and had spoken to her family. Later that day, the account was deleted.

While the comment was outrageous, it certainly doesn't warrant too much outrage. I was on Twitter the night this went down and was aware of it long before it became the major event it obviously has. I read the girl's timeline and all of her tweets were just as silly. In one, she vaguely accuses someone of breaking up with her then visiting her home or something. All very typical teenage stuff. All the tweets I read had a hint of desperation and brattiness - again, she's a 16-year-old girl!

Does her tweet really reflect something said in the home? I don't know, maybe, but I doubt her parents have ever suggested someone assassinate the President. When I was a teenager, I remember saying the most horrible things to my parents and probably my friends and family at different times as well. I would scream "I hate you!" and "I hope you die!" or "I wish I was dead!" or whatever. This explosive tweet was simply another one of these outbursts.

A lot of experts say the girl probably won't be charged with anything too serious because it's pretty obvious that the threat carries no weight. However, a 21-year-old North Carolina man was arrested earlier that week for making more specific threats against the President. It also matters that the President was in the same area as the man who made the threats and that the man made multiple tweets suggesting he was going to kill the POTUS. In this man's case, he allegedly smiled while the tweets were being read in court and claimed his Twitter rant was serious "as a heart attack."

Later, someone on Facebook posted a collage of tweets talking about assassinating the President. I haven't heard about any of the other tweets being investigated but I assume they are real. Which leads me to believe these things have more to do with the politically charged environment in which we live.

A lot of people view services like Twitter not as branding platforms but extensions of their private lives. As I keep reminding people, these aren't well considered communications, these are immediate communications. Most of these communications are very limited in nature and a single person sends thousands every few weeks; the majority of people do not consider everything they say online, nor should they. While these people were clearly out of line, even the one guy who is in serious trouble claims he had no transportation, no weapon, no plan, and no real intention of harming anyone.

Of course, there are cases on record where wars of words between users on social networks including Twitter have escalated offline. In at least a few instances, it has ended in murder. Still, I just don't think most of the people who are a serious threat are broadcasting their intentions online. And of those who are, they probably have more than one errant post suggesting they are going to do something outlandish.

© C Harris Lynn, 2012

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