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, her account was deleted.

While the comment was outrageous, it certainly doesn't warrant this level of outrage. I was on Twitter the night this went down and was aware of it long before it became a major event. 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 -- possibly because 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 serious because it's 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. In that case, the President was in the same area as the man who made the threats, and the man made multiple tweets about killing the POTUS. He allegedly smiled while the tweets were being read in court and claimed his Twitter rant was as "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 social networks don't engender well thought-out communications; they are created for the transmission of immediate communications. 

Most of these communications are very limited in nature and a single person might send thousands over a few weeks; the majority of people do not consider everything they post online before sending it, 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 ISIS' chatroom Twitter, have escalated offline. In at least a few instances, these disagreements have ended in murder! Still, I 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.

On the bright side, I'm glad I live in a country where the Secret Service has this much free fucking time on their hands.

© C Harris Lynn, 2012

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