I have a quick story for you. Once upon a time, in a land far far way, my parents were not on Facebook. It was 2009, and life was simple and the possibilities were endless. I could post whatever raunchy comment or profane inside joke I wanted, with no consequences. But all good things must come to an end, and so it did one day when I got a call from my dad about a particularly heinous post a fellow high school freshman put on my wall. I was efficiently scolded and grounded, but I learned my lesson: be careful what you post on Facebook. Fortunately, I was not put in jail, which was one 18-year-old Texan’s punishment.
Justin Carter, in a sarcastic online exchange between friends (over an online video game, apparently), made the grossly insensitive comment: “”I’m fucked in the head alright, I think I’ma SHOOT UP A KINDERGARTEN.” In the wake of tragedies like Sandy Hook, this was obviously not the most tasteful comment. Had he been a Walters boy, he would have had a tear-inducing scolding, with orders to take the comment down and make an apology. However, when (bizarrely) a Canadian who saw the comment reported it as a threat, Carter was arrested and sent to Comal County jail, where he spent four months (and reportedly was attacked by inmates several times).
Now, Carter faces up to 10 years in prison, even though searches of his home showed nothing that might indicate his comment was nothing more than an idiotic attempt at being funny. His comments, captured on a screenshot, have been taken completely out of context, without the original message to prove that he was not serious. He is now being charged as a terrorist, and his life is effectively ruined.
This is the second time I’ve used this blog to be a “defender of the people,” having previously written about Justine Sacco’s death- by-Tweet. To clarify, I have no personal affection for these people, and honestly, probably wouldn’t have much to do with a person that would make Sandy Hook jokes on Facebook. However, I think we should think twice before we throw someone’s life away for a Facebook comment. Had he made the comment verbally to his friends, he would not have been branded a terrorist. However, Facebook is now becoming dangerously intertwined with reality, in a confusing way. We need to use common sense and discretion when treating Facebook as if it is reality.
Malislow, C. 2014, February 14. Young man’s violent threat on Facebook lands him in jail. Houston Press. Retrieved February 14, 2014 from http://www.houstonpress.com/2014-02-13/news/justin-carter-facebook/.