Saturday, July 13, 2013

Online is real life with digital memory

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

I have talked a lot about the belief that online behavior is often considered to be anonymous, or simply doesn't matter in the real world.

Google is a verb, an action word

When you apply for a job, it is common for your name to be Googled. Those photos of you 4 years ago at the holiday party may not look so funny to your perspective employer. 

How about the stupid stuff we all say at some point during our day? When I was waiting in line today at the store, I overheard 2 young men talking about the party they were heading to. They were looking forward to meeting girls and hoping that there would be lots of beer available. The implication I noted was, if there is lots of beer, then sex is more likely. If a police office overheard their immature conversation, could he arrest them for conspiring to rape? 

After the words were said, they were lost in the ether. But were they really? What if the store had security cameras? Not wanting to present a conspiracy story let's move on to a real situation.

Justin Carter

Justin is now 19 years-old. He is stuck in jail for saying some very mean things on Facebook while playing a violent game. 

CNN reports his father saying:

"Someone had said something to the effect of 'Oh you're insane. You're crazy. You're messed up in the head,'" Jack Carter told CNN affiliate KVUE in Austin. "To which he [Justin] replied 'Oh yeah, I'm real messed up in the head. I'm going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still-beating hearts.'"
According to court documents, Justin wrote "I'm f---ed in the head alright. I think I'ma (sic) shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them."
Jack Carter said his son followed the claim with "LOL" and "J/K" -- indicating that the comment wasn't serious.

NPR reported:
In April (2013), a grand jury in Comal County, Texas, indicted Carter on a charge of making a terroristic threat, and a judge set bail at $500,000. The high bail has kept Carter imprisoned while his case moves through the court process.
"I have been practicing law for 10 years, I've represented murderers, terrorists, rapists. Anything you can think of. I have never seen a bond at $500,000," says Carter's attorney, Don Flanary.
The charge is a third-degree felony, which in Texas carries up to 10 years in prison. The Comal County District Attorney's office hasn't responded to our calls, but police in New Braunfels, Texas, who have investigated the case, say in a time of heightened sensitivity to school shootings, their interest is in preventing violence when they can.
"The whole situation is kind of unfortunate," said New Braunfels Police Lt. John Wells. "We definitely understand the situation that Mr. Carter is in, however he made the comments, and it is an offense. We have to ... protect the general public and specifically, in this case, with it involving schoolchildren, we have to act. We take those very seriously."

The lesson 

1. What is on the Internet survives forever. No joke. Your great-grand-children will know so much more about you than you know about your parents or grand-parents. They will know snapshots of your life, out of context, but available to be judged by them. 

2. Law enforcement branches are often bound by their own rules once a case starts down a legal path. I do wonder about a District Attorney that does not see that strict adherence to the letter of the law can lose the spirit of the law. I recall what Abraham Lincoln said, "I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice".

Learn more about Justin Carter and his court case

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