An Texas teen is in jail after a sarcastic Facebook post he made in February caught the attention of a concerned Netizen and police who viewed it as a threat.
Justin Carter, 18, of Austin, got into an argument on Facebook over the online game "League of Legends." The dispute led Carter to post a sarcastic comment on Facebook about "[shooting] up a school full of kids and [eating] their still, beating hearts," reports Austin's KVUE-TV. He also wrote "lol" for "laughing out loud" and "jk" for "just kidding," according to Carter's dad.
Though Carter's post may have been in jest, in the wake of events like the Sandy Hook Shooting, concerned families and law enforcement are not taking these comments lightly.
Facebook Terroristic Threat
After Carter posted his joking "threat" to shoot up a school, a Facebook user from Canada who saw the post tracked down Carter's old address -- one near an elementary school -- and proceeded to call the police, reports KVUE.
Carter was charged with making a terroristic threat, which under Texas law is a third degree felony that carries a maximum penalty of eight years in prison.
Terroristic threats in Texas cover a broad range of threatening statements, including any where the intent is to:
- Cause a reaction in a government official,
- Place any person or the public in general in fear of imminent serious bodily injury, or
- Influence the conduct of a government agency.
Intent to Cause Harm?
One of Carter's best potential arguments in his defense is that he did not intend to cause panic or harm by his "joke," so he lacked the specific intent to commit the crime.
Carter's father told KVUE that his son did not understand the implications of his Facebook comment and that he "wasn't aware of current events" enough to comprehend how it would be used against him.
However, Facebook threats are taken as seriously as real threats. And it may be up to a future jury to decide if Justin's "jk" and "lol" were enough to show that he meant no harm.
Petition for Release
In the meantime, Justin's parents have started an online petition for his release, complaining that the law is being used to trample his First Amendment right to free speech.
While some courts have decided to draw the line at protecting hypothetical threats as political speech, laws preventing dangerous and terror-inciting speech are often upheld.
To all the hilarious teenage Facebookers out there, remember that making sarcastic "joke" threats online can be seen as something akin to yelling "fire" in a theater: a terrible idea that might land you in jail.
- Teen Justin Carter Jailed In Texas After Making Sarcastic Threat In Facebook Comment (The Huffington Post)
- When Blog Posts Cross From Free Speech to Criminal Threats (FindLaw)
- Maryland Student Arrested for Shooting Threats (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Internet Trolling (Or Being a Jerk Online) May Soon Be Illegal in Arizona (FindLaw's Technologist)