Another 'Internet Threat' Results In Six Months In Jail And A Five-Year Ban From Social Media

from the so...-we've-rounded-up-all-the-REAL-criminals,-then? dept

Another person has been arrested for sending out "terroristic threats" via social media. Caleb Clemmons, a (former, obviously) Georgia Southern student, has spent the last six months in jail because of a Tumblr post that said the following:

hello. my name is irenigg and i plan on shooting up georgia southern. pass this around to see the affect it has. to see if i get arrested.
Within three hours, he was. Achievement unlocked: Bull fucked with; horns acquired.

Clemmons attempted to explain his post, calling it "an experimental literary piece and an art project." No sale. The police charged him with "making terroristic threats via a computer," which seems to be on par with doing it over the phone or by mail or in person. Why the delivery system matters, I have no idea.

Now, there's no disputing the utter stupidity of the post and pretty much daring the police to take action only makes it worse. As I've said before, the police should definitely investigate possible threats like these. The problem is that the investigations come and go without turning up any evidence that the person delivering the threat poses a danger. And yet, the arrestee stays locked up.
Although police found no weapons or evidence of an actual plan to attack the school, a judge set Clemmons' bail at $20,000, which was too much for him and his mother to pay. As a result, he spent the full time waiting for his court date in jail.
Not only did the police find nothing, but the administration at Georgia Southern didn't even bother notifying the student body at the time of Clemmons' arrest because it felt "there was no continuous threat." In fact, no statement at all was made until Clemmons' story resurfaced a week ago, over six months since the date of his original post.

At this point, Clemmons is technically free. He's been sentenced to five years probation, along with six months in jail (which he already served). Perhaps more harshly, he's been banned from social media for the entirety of his probation.

Like Justin Carter and Cameron D'Ambrosio, Clemmons said something stupid on the internet and is now paying the price for it -- one that seems to outweigh the "crime" itself. And like the other two, he was investigated (which is good) but still remained imprisoned despite a complete dearth of evidence to support his ability to carry out the threat (which is terrible).

The overreaction of law enforcement to these "threats" is usually justified by pointing to recent school shootings or terrorist attacks. But what's unsaid is that the perpetrators of the Sandy Hook shooting and the Boston Bombing (both cited frequently) didn't deliver threats via social media (or anywhere really) before carrying out their acts of violence. Somehow prosecutors and law enforcement have gotten it into their heads that terrorists and mass murderers will be sending Tweets and lighting up Facebook before carrying out their plans. I think most murderers and terrorists would prefer to carry out their acts of violence unmolested rather than be detained or imprisoned, hence the lack of advance notice.

Not only would this sort of heads-up be an anomaly, but bombers and mass murders generally have some sort of evidence laying around, like stockpiles of weapons or bomb-making components. When these threats are investigated, one would expect the police to find something that backs up the words. But in all three of these cases, they haven't.

Not only that, but the cases are weak enough that law enforcement and prosecutors have resorted to editorializing the actual "threats" made by these individuals in order to make their cases stick. In Ambrosio's case, the police chief repeatedly dropped the part of his Facebook post where he said "Ima be famous rapping," making it appear as though his fame relied solely on some vague allusions to other violent acts. In Carter's case, prosecutors dropped the first part of his response (provoked by another person) -- "I'm fucked in the head alright" -- and presented the rest of the post ("I think I’ma shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them") as a standalone statement in the indictment.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing looks like it will only get more common, rather than just become a time-dependent anomaly due to the proximity to acts of terrorism. The police need to take these statements seriously, but they also need to let it go when their investigations come up empty. To move forward with prosecution is to punish someone for stupidity, something that still isn't a crime no matter how often we wish it was. There's no terrorism prevention going on here -- it's just abuse of an easily-abused law and the end result makes no one any safer.



Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Mark Harrill (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 6:01am

    First Amendment

    How is charging people with "crimes" like this not a violation of the First Amendement? While it definitly should be investigated and if there is a credible threat maybe there is a crime to be charged (i.e. possession of illegal firearms, bombs, etc), but as long as its just talk, isn't it a violation of the first amendement to charge them for speaking the threat, no matter how vile?

    The go-to counter argument for this will be people stating "you can't yell fire in a crowded theater" trope. But if everyone in the theatre looks at you and tells you to sit down and shut up, have you really committed any crime? Same thing here, its just talk and when even the possible targets of the threat don't take you seriously, how have you committed a crime?

     

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    Ninja (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 6:01am

    Ah US... Break the financial system and spark a world crisis unprecedented and walk free, pockets full of money. Violate the Constitution massively and walk free (pockets possibly filled with money too).

    Now write something as stupid as it's harmless, make gun sounds while pretending your fingers are guns, make your pastry look like a gun, play with water balloons and the likes. HEAVY DISPROPORTIONATE PUNISHMENT FOR YOU.

    Which teaches a very clear lesson: if you are going to be eventually guilty of some random crime for innocuous actions then why not go the heavy crime way and make millions of dollars while getting away unscathed? This is a very dangerous path the US are walking.

     

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    esquireLLC, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:30am

    Good one

    "an experimental literary piece and an art project."

    What he didnt realize was, this is performance art and it lasts 6 mos.

     

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    ethorad (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:31am

    terroristic?

    What's a terroristic threat, and how does it differ from a terrorist threat?

    I guess in the same way as "burglarize" differs from "burgle" - ie not at all, apart from the pointless addition of some letters for an unknown reason.

    Just why??

     

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    theotherDude, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:34am

    Poor Judge ment

    'Not only did the police find nothing, but the administration at Georgia Southern didn't even bother notifying the student body at the time of Clemmons' arrest because it felt "there was no continuous threat."'

    So the judge felt he was so potentially dangerous he required 20k in bail, but his university thought he was so clearly harmless they didnít even issue a warning? Let me guess, this is a state that elects judges?

     

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    kenichi tanaka (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:35am

    Uh, a five year ban from Social Media? That's not a punishment, that's a reward.

     

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    TasMot (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:36am

    Its time to "light up facebook"

    The stupidity of this type of reaction will be coming to a head soon. There just needs to be a large enough group making a "threat" like this that the police will have to throw up their hands and say "sorry we can't handle it". If a thousand of these "threats" show up at the same time in the same area, then a more reasonable reaction than "lock 'em up and throw away the key" will be required. A real investigation will have to be conducted because they don't have the facilities to handle that many "terrorists".
    It will end up being more of a First Amendment saving version akin to "Occupy Social Networks".
    Its time to get rid of the thinking that jail time is required for holding up your fingers and saying bang but here's an extra $100 million for causing the banking system to collapse.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:37am

    Well, I feel MUCH safer knowing the cops are arresting the REAL terrorists like Caleb Clemmons are getting thrown behind bars!

    Obviously Caleb Clemmons would have caused the next 9/11 had the police not thrown him in jail!

    Sure the police and NSA and FBI/etc failed to catch the Boston Bombers, but hey, anyone can make a mistake of not watching a known terrorist we had warnings about from Russia!

    And a terrorist armed with guns and bombs is NOTHING compared to the threat of an unarmed teenager with a computer and an Internet connection!

    I also feel MUCH safer whenever the FBI catches it's own home created terrorists and foils it OWN terrorist plots!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:38am

    "Achievement unlocked: Bull fucked with; horns acquired."


    Can I nominate this for funny of the week?

     

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    kenichi tanaka (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:40am

    Samuel Jackson: Ya Mess With With The Bull?
    Police Officers: (All Chanting) Ya Get The Horns!

    - Shaft (2000)

     

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    Pixelation, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:42am

    All I can think is, what a fucking idiot.

    The judge should have said after handing out his sentence..."pass this around to see the affect it has"

     

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    Richard (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:45am

    "Just Abuse"?

    "There's no terrorism prevention going on here -- it's just abuse of an easily-abused law and the end result makes no one any safer."

    I was inclined initially to accuse you (tongue-in-cheek) of simply trying to confuse the issue by expounding facts, but the word "just" got in my way.

    In addition to an abuse that makes us no safer, this incident reminds us of:

    1) the growing trend to ignore taking real responsibility by treating everyone the same, i.e., extremely badly, in the name of safety;

    2) the terrorism of the masses into being "good little drones" by the application of overkill punitive measures;

    3) the avoidance of any possible legal liabilities for having incorrectly dismissed a real threat.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:48am

    Completely deserved. In this day and age, with full knowledge of how the US (and others) handle cases like these, he has no excuse and deserves no sympathy. Trying to justify this with "an art project" shows just how much of a complete and utter idiot he is.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:52am

    Re: First Amendment

    No. Threats are not protected speech. "Yes your honor, I threatened to shoot the witness if he testified against me, but I don't even own a gun, so obviously I did nothing wrong!"

    If nothing else, when you make a threat you are wasting the police's time because they have to investigate to see if you ARE a threat.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:55am

    Re:

    Completely expected, not deserved. An unjust response to an action can't be deserved by any reasonable definition of that word.

    And while he may be an idiot, I think that it's ludicrous to say that someone deserves no sympathy when the state overreaches it's authority. He may have poor risk-assessment skills but that doesn't excuse the state's abuse of its monopoly on force.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:58am

    Re: terroristic?

    Terrorist threat = A threat from an actual terrorist.

    Terroristic threat = A loophole to send Americans to jail if they act stupid on the internet.

     

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    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 8:10am

    Re: Re: terroristic?

    That's pretty much how I see it. One has to do a bit of construing in order to hit the low bar of "terroristic." Much easier to prosecute than going after actual terrorists.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 8:11am

    Another terrorist incident that has been stopped by universal surveillance.
    /sarc

     

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    Mr. Oizo, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 8:20am

    We should be scared of the children of the future. There is no reason why they should not take up arms and revolt.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 8:49am

    Re: Re:

    No, completely deserved. He knew what to expect, even said so in the message. He WANTED to get arrested and to create this situation. Now we should have sympathy? No freakin way. We all know the US govt will pull stunts like these and will never have to justify them.

    But we all know that people are retarded and it's only a matter of weeks/months before some other genius pulls the same thing and begs for our sympathy.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 9:05am

    Re: Re: First Amendment

    Technically, threats can be protected speech. It all depends.

    Generally, speech is not protected if it presents a clear and present danger, is "fighting words," is intended to incite imminent lawbreaking, or a reasonable person would take understand it as an actual threat of violence.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 9:07am

    Easy solution

    He should move elsewhere.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 9:21am

    Poorly defined verdict

    What is "social media"? Just Facebook and Twitter? Is Reddit included? What about Google+, or related sites? Is Clemmons banned from watching YouTube videos, or checking his GMail? Do forums count as "social media"? Any site that lets users post comments? Any site that has any form of social media integration, including "follow us" buttons?
    Where exactly does "social media" begin and end, now that people have been chattering about "Web 2.0" for years?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 9:21am

    Okay... I agree that police overreach is getting rediculous overall. I generally deplore senseless prosecutions. I also agree 6 months may be a little long.

    But... I don't disagree with jail time for this. This sort of thing isn't funny. It isn't cute. Its deplorable and idiotic. This isn't a vague out of context slip, this is someone not only declaring violent intent (whether he intended to follow through or not) but also declaring they are trying to see how big a disruption they can cause.

     

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    Ninja (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 9:40am

    Re: Re:

    Regardless of how much you disagree with the man or think he's an idiot it should be obvious that his is an abuse of power prompted by a broken system. Thankfully there are those like the ACLU that will even defend the likes of the KKK even if they fundamentally and vehemently disagree with them. Because free speech, due process and the likes always come before what you feel or think about anything.

     

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    Internet Zen Master (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 10:02am

    Context context context

    Very important, yet often ignored. Especially by overly paranoid law enforcement.

    But for this one you don't even need context. I mean, he flat out says in the tumblr post "pass this around, see if I get arrested". That's probably a hint that he wasn't actually serious. I can understand the police showing up and questioning him at the very least (especially considering six months ago still had Sandy Hook fresh in everyone's minds. Situational context is also important), but locking him up for six months for "making terroristic threats via a computer" when there was absolutely zero evidence that he actually intended to carry out his statement, seems a bit extreme.

    Clemmons should've gone with "it's part of a social experiment" instead of "experimental literary piece". Probably wouldn't have worked either, but it'd be more reasonable than Caleb's explanation.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 11:01am

    Re: Re: First Amendment

    That's not just a threat that's extortion.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 11:04am

    Re:

    A chilling one.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 11:07am

    Re:

    Let me get this straight, law enforcement and the courts grossly overreact and it's his fault because he 'knew' they would? That's some great post hoc logic there.

     

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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 11:22am

    Re: "Just Abuse"?

    And again I look for the "Sad but massively, massively true" button. +1 insightful for you, sir.

     

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    AnonCow, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 11:25am

    Proof that stupidity continues to carry a very high cost...

     

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    Rekrul, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 11:26am

    I wouldn't be surprised to hear about a filmmaker getting locked up for posting that he thinks his movie will "bomb" at the box office.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 11:27am

    Annoying fuck

    While I don't condone the punishment this annoying fuck got, these types of people are annoying fucks and something should be done to them. What "types" of people do I mean? Those that do their incredibly annoying "social experiments" on unsuspecting populaces.

    Mainly in this category are those that passively-aggressively walk around getting in people's faces videoing them and then so-calmly answer the angry queries of "what the fuck are you doing" with their calm "I'm just taping. What's the matter?" voices. Their "point" is that "we're all under surveillance, so why so upset at me just because you can see me doing it?" Then they upload this crap to youtube etc. and express faux be-wonderment that people react like they do.

    These "types" perhaps don't deserve prosecution, but they should be in public stocks for a few hours and allowed to be bitch-slapped by the general public during that time. There you go you annoying ass - now you know - this is the result of your unwitting "social experiment!"

    That I would be in favor of.

     

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    btrussell (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 11:33am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "The problem is that the investigations come and go without turning up any evidence that the person delivering the threat poses a danger. And yet, the arrestee stays locked up."

    "Because free speech, due process and the likes always come before what you feel or think about anything."

    So says the bank robber holding a home-made gun replica.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 11:50am

    Re:

    Is it?
    If they call the entire internet a Social Media Device (It's all Social in one form or another) and it's Definitely a Media form.
    They just lost access to E-Mail, web, research, job searches, ect.
    Given most Mobile Phones have Messaging capabilities, no access to those either.
    No TV, Cable , Dish, Direct Tv, ect (All Social Media)
    Heck, almost anything you do now a days with the population could be "Defined" as a Social Media event.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 11:57am

    Re:

    Being a complete and total idiot is not, nor should it be, against the law.

     

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    Divide by Zero (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 12:00pm

    Don't forget though, you're talking about TERRORISM in conjunction with FOR THE CHILDREN. He's probably lucky he didn't get the death penalty, just in case, and also to make an example.

    I also wish that that would forever be a joke, but I feel that it may be reality in the not too distant future.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 12:01pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    So says the bank robber holding a home-made gun replica.


    Bad analogy. Holding a replica gun in the course of a robbery is clearly a case of "speech" which a reasonable person would view as an actual threat of violence. That Tumbler post is not.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 12:47pm

    i suppose doing this sort of thing beats going out after real criminals and trying to solve real crimes, eh? i bet the police involved got big, fat, bonuses for saving the world from a fate worse than a night at a student party!!

     

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    Thebes, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 1:15pm

    It was a threat

    Unlike many other allegedly threatening internet comments, this appears to have been a specific, immediate, and credible threat. Those are limits that courts have placed upon speech in the USA.

     

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    btrussell (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "The problem is that the investigations come and go without turning up any evidence that the person delivering the threat poses a danger."

    After investigating, how much of a threat is a toy gun?

    Is sentencing the same for a real gun and a toy gun used for a robbery? Here in Canada it is the same. The teller FELT their life was in danger.

     

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    Nigflot blarny quando floon, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:45pm

    No sympathy for this moron at all.

     

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    slick8086, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:50pm

    It is only a matter of time before some one mashes this up with SWATing. "borrow" some one's phone or tablet and post as them to get them thrown in jail.

     

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    jingoi, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 3:18pm

    Once again I'm hearing we're fucked. The rich, powerful, surrounded with hundreds of muscle men with military grade guns at their command, old white men are immune to the law despite committing crimes publicly but we the people make a joking, JOKING!, NOT FUCKING REAL!, terror comment and they send us to jail for 5-50 years even if they learn we didn't mean one damn word and there's no fucking proof we are part of any terrorist activity! I'm not seeing any reason to continue going on in this world since we can't beat this evil with the system since evil has corrupted the system. Obama can't help us or won't, whoever the next president is will follow the same path. And if a republican ends up as president we might as well start jumping into the abyss or live in the wilderness.

     

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    riii, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 3:25pm

    Re:

    Why are these people getting paid to turn innocent (and possibly stupid) people into criminals?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 3:27pm

    Re: Re:

    As great a logic as asking to get arrested by making terrorist threats as a joke. If he wouldn't have asked for it, it wouldn't have happened. His fault.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 4:58pm

    Re:

    I suppose you have no sympathy for Snowden either, as he clearly knew when he leaked those documents the US would come down on him hard, and I suppose in general you have no Sympathy for those who would put themselves in the line of fire just to show the stupidity of the situation in general.

    Not to say that what he did wasn't the smartest idea, he clearly had a strong idea what would happen when he posted that, but what better way to show what is wrong with a situation then, quite literally, showing it?

     

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    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 5:54pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Right. But it's being used in the commission of another crime -- robbing a bank. That changes things. A perceived threat delivered via social media with no other criminal activity is hardly the same thing.

     

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    Sat, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 11:34pm

    Re: Poorly defined verdict

    Exactly.
    Pretty much anything including TV or Newspapers can be considered "social media".

     

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    btrussell (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 1:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You can rob a bank without a gun and still be up on charges. With a weapon it is different charges as well as bank robbery.

    My point is these investigations have been going this way for quite some time(no real gun = no real threat = jail time) and it does depend greatly on peoples feelings.

     

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    al, Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 4:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Who exactly thought that their life was in danger ( for real? not just some vague concern)

     

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    TheLoot (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 7:46am

    How many kids have to stick their fingers in an electrical socket before it becomes clear it's a stupid idea?

    While there has been an extreme amount of inappropriate punishment in these situations, these things should not be done without punishment.

    Should not be done at all, in fact. There's no good reason to try to make excuses as to why they don't deserve punishment. Fight the sentence, not the sentencing.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 10:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    After investigating, how much of a threat is a toy gun?


    That's not relevant. The standard is that a reasonable person would perceive it as a threat of violence. That can be true even if the threat wasn't actionable.

    Canada and the US appear to be the same in terms of toy gun vs real gun used in the course of a robbery.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 10:26am

    Re:

    Why do you think this warrants jail time? I don't see what law he broke. The "threat" was obviously not a serious one.

    I think an investigation was warranted. The problem is that once the investigation found that nothing was amiss, prosecution took place anyway.

     

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    btrussell (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 1:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Define reasonable person and how it relates to Jammie Thomas, Snowden and many more discussed here.

    Would an American reasonable person flee for their life from their government, a free country?

    Would a reasonable person make any kind of threat to a school, airport or any government building even following it with LOL?

    There is no reasonableness. There is no common sense. Justice is a game.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  56.  
    icon
    John85851 (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 4:08pm

    Blame comic books

    I blame comic books for this. No, really, follow me for a minute:

    I think it's safe to assume that most people have read comic books or seen comic book movies. And in these comic books, we get super-villains like the Riddler and Joker who try to outwit Batman by leaving clues. If Batman can figure out the clues in time, he can prevent the Riddler from carrying out his dastardly plan!

    Now extend this to the real world and you have people in government agencies who think teenagers are super-villains plotting to shoot a school and can be stopped if their Facebook postings can be deciphered in time.

    Why is it that no one stops to think that a majority of the stuff said on Facebook is harmless? But, like training kids to be ready for a school bus hijacking, we have to prepare for any eventuality, after all, we never know when the next terrorist will strike. And obviously, he'll put a cryptic (or not so cryptic) post on Facebook about it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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