In Switzerland, a judge sentenced a young man to pay a fine for a comment he made on a social network. According to news reports, he felt he didn’t receive a sufficient number of birthday congratulations from his 290 friends on the social network. He posted a comment that roughly translates to, “Is no one happy about my birthday? (…) I am going to destroy you all, you will regret it, now no one can protect you… pow pow pow.” He later explained that it was obviously meant as a sarcastic comment and not intended as a death threat. The judge did not see the humor in the comment and sentenced him to pay a fine.
This is just the most recent case of many alleged fake threats that have been posted this year. Others have received much higher penalties, like a teenager in Texas who spent five months in prison after posting “an alleged threat on Facebook.” Comments that can be perceived as threats can quickly generate a costly response from local authorities.
Remember that a winky face emoticon is not enough to show that you are joking—law enforcement does not view threats as jokes and they are not treated as such. It’s wise to think twice about what you post on your social network, including both pictures and comments.
Content on social networks can spread very quickly. For example, earlier this year, another hoax chain mail made its way around a popular smartphone application. There were multiple versions of the hoax and one of the messages was a computer-generated voice that said, “Send this message in the next 20 minutes to 20 friends or you will be dead by tomorrow.” Hopefully, this was viewed as an obvious hoax and simply ignored and deleted by any who received the message. However, this instant messaging service is very popular among teenagers. Many students were frightened and forwarded the message in fear of the threat. In Germany, the hoax took off like wildfire and reached enough under-age individuals that the police started to warn people about the hoax message.
It is important to think about the consequences of anything that is posted online. Keep in mind that an off-color joke can be perceived as an actual threat. If you have doubts about what to post, it may be better to err on the side of caution (or post a cute kitten picture) – or better yet, hold off on posting anything questionable at all.