It’s 3 a.m., you are fast asleep, and suddenly you hear a banging at your front door. “Police! Open up!” Groggy and wearing pajamas, you stumble to answer the door. The officers drop you to the floor, read your Miranda rights and explain that you are under arrest for terrorism — for the tweet you posted last night.
Sound absurd? That exact scenario was the wake-up call of a lifetime for one man with a temper and a Twitter account. Paul Chambers was awaiting a plane ride when he posted “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s— together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” What seemed like a simple rant put Chambers in jail for violation of the Terrorism Act.
Such a scene is not out of the ordinary and happens far more often than one might assume. And it is not always simple tweets or status updates that rouse the concern of fellow peers or law enforcement. A 19-year-old mother in Florida was arrested on counts of drug paraphernalia and possible child endangerment after posting a photograph on Facebook depicting her infant smoking from a bong. Her rebuttal to the local news station was that upon closer inspection of the photograph, there was no bowl of marijuana in place, and the scene was therefore obviously a joke.
If posting about events that haven’t actually happened doesn’t seem like grounds for arrest, take the example of one Washington man who was arrested after bragging on Facebook about outrunning the cops during a high-speed motorcycle chase. To top his not-so-thought-out post, he included a picture of the bike he used in the chase. At 4 a.m. that same day, police showed up at the man’s door with a printout of his post and a warrant.
More recently, two men spread Twitter posts last week that created havoc of mass proportions in Mexico. The tweets, which had parents in a panic trying to retrieve their children from school, claimed men were removing children from their classrooms at gunpoint. The men who created the posts did not know each other, but both had affiliation with the school systems in the area. There were no children kidnapped from schools that day, and both men face 30-year prison terms for the cyber-terrorism. The posts created such chaos, the scene was compared by many other news reports to the chaos created by a radio broadcast of Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds.”
Is it so much to ask that you think before you post? I am sure I am just as guilty of typing things in 140 characters or less that could possibly be misconstrued, but if you think it might get you arrested, there’s a simple solution: Don’t post it.
The less thought of consequence some do not contemplate before posting — especially when it comes to photographs — is employment screening. A survey conducted by Harris Interactive for careerbuilder.com concluded 45 percent of employers are using social networks to prescreen applicants before calling for interviews. That number has increased from 22 percent since the same survey was taken last year. Of the employers surveyed, more than half admitted suggestive or inappropriate photos deterred calls back, and 44 percent throw out applications because of online references to drugs or alcohol. Potential bosses also keep an eye out for public bad-mouthing of past employers and indecent communication skills.
So before you post that photo of you and the frat boys doing two-story beer bongs, you may want to consider who might see it and whether they will find it as “legit” as your brothers do. And if you think creating derogatory photographs with your children or pets is humorous, keep it to yourself. That easily offended “friend” you forgot was on your list might not get the joke and turn you in. Play it safe. If you wouldn’t want your 80-year-old grandmother to see it for fear she might keel over, you probably shouldn’t make it public.
—Heather Mathis is a journalism junior.