Before getting to this pressing issue of the day, allow me to reiterate Jazz’s Rule Number 17: Sooner or later, the internet ruins everything it touches.
What is it ruining today? Online threats of violence. Now, that may not sound like something that could ever be “ruined” at first glance, but social media has managed to find a way. It turns out that people (including children) are getting hauled in over questions of online threats and harassment over the use of emoji. (Side note for you logophiles… the plural of emoji is still emoji.) Or at least they are according to Time Magazine.
According to a Washington Post feature on the subject, a 12-year-old girl in Fairfax, Va. was charged with threatening her school and computer harassment because she posted a message on Instagram that included a bomb, knife and gun emojis and the phrase “meet me in the Library.”
Fairfax County Schools ultimately concluded the threat was not credible, but the outcome of the case in juvenile court is unclear.
In a separate New York case last year, a teen was charged with making a terrorist threat after he wrote a Facebook post that included three gun emojis pointing at the head of a police officer emoji. The teen ultimately was not indicted on the charge.
I wish this subject were more amusing and less serious than it is because at a quick glance it almost sounds like a silly question. Kids using emoji on social media? But it’s obviously a bit more complex than that. If someone goes on Twitter or Facebook and publishes a definite threat saying they plan to blow up a school or go out and kill some cops, that’s taken seriously by law enforcement. (As it should be.) If we’d caught the online activities of Ismaaiyl Brinsley a bit sooner, two New York City police officers might not have been assassinated. Other people have been prosecuted for making similar, explicit threats.
But, again… emoji? A student tweeting a cartoon of a bomb while talking about the school library (from the linked article) could just be somebody who is tired of classes and picking out disturbing, but not terribly serious cartoon characters from a list. But what if they’re not? The problem here is that emoji fall under the category of art, which is in the eye of the beholder by definition. The other example provided had a tweet with three gun emoji pointed at the head of a police officer caricature. What is the court system supposed to do with that?
It seems to me that such posts can and should be investigated when found. The possibility exists that you might turn up a household where a teenager has accumulated some weapons and has detailed plans for an attack. If that’s the case, you prosecute them accordingly. But if there’s nothing more than a tweet from some kid, do you try to prosecute them? That effort was made in New York and it failed. But such possible threats can’t simply be ignored.
As I said at the top… the internet ruins everything. Thanks, Twitter.