How ‘Just Kidding’ Doesn’t Cut It in the Online World

One of the last things I talk about with my student audiences during my presentation is the idea that jokes and sarcasm don’t translate very well into the online world. When I make a joke in person- you can see my face, hear the tone of my voice and you have a pretty good idea that I’m just joking around. Take that same joke online and it might be taken the wrong way.

Justin Carter, 19, of Texas is learning that lesson the hardest way possible.


On February 20th of this year, Carter was arrested at work after police received an anonymous tip about something he had posted on Facebook. That post, in response to someone in an online game calling him ‘messed up in the head’ read, “”I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten / And watch the blood of the innocent rain down/ And eat the beating heart of one of them.” He supposedly followed this comment with LOL (laughing out loud) and JK (just kidding).

He is now being charged with making a terroristic threat. His trial was set to begin July 1st.

Carter is being held on $500,000 bail and, according to an interview by his father on NPR, he is getting beat up and is now on suicide watch.  “Without getting into the really nasty details, he’s had concussions, black eyes, moved four times from base for his own protection,” says Carter’s father, Jack. “He’s been put in solitary confinement, nude, for days on end because he’s depressed. All of this is extremely traumatic to this kid. This is a horrible experience.”

I think NPR reporter Elise Hu says it best at the end of the broadcast that this is a “painful reminder of how online comments can have real life consequences.”

I’m frankly shocked by the authorities in this situation. While I can see how this is a fantastic opportunity to teach someone a lesson, I think it’s gone way too far.

In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary this past winter and the fact that Justin’s family lived close to an elementary school, I can see how someone would take that comment to the authorities. I can understand Carter’s arrest.

I feel a more appropriate course of action would have been to sentence him to a month of jail time, probation and community service. I would want him to travel to local schools are a part of this service and talk about how his is an example of how online comments can have real world consequences. I would want him to learn and grow from this.

I would be very interested to hear what others think of this story. Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

6 thoughts on “How ‘Just Kidding’ Doesn’t Cut It in the Online World

  1. I think that’s insane. If they were generally worried about what the boy might do, get a psych assessment. Check his house to see if he has weapons. Interview people to see if he’s crazy or just dumb. Don’t lock up a kid for an on-line comment that is followed by LOL and JK. Yes, I know we have to be diligent but this sounds like every parent’s worst nightmare – stupid kid says stupid thing and ruins his life.

    • I completely agree. I think a fantastic learning opportunity was wasted here. Now kids are going to live in fear of every little thing they say. That’s not what we want. We want them to think and take the time to understand the impact of their words. This is now an extreme example of how your words can be taken the wrong way and how that will affect you.
      I know in the coming school year when I hit the road, I’ll be talking about this case- I’m curious to see what the reaction from students will be.

      • I am guessing, at first, they won’t believe you. They will not believe that they can be held accountable for what amounts to a stupid joke on line. Keep in mind, many kids today are not held accountable for anything. I see it all the time in the classroom…nice kids but their actions often don’t lead to any consequences. They don’t understand accountability and then to have it come smashing down on them with such serious consequences? Well, I don’t envy them. I have two teenage boys and let’s just say, we talk about accountability a lot.

      • I agree- it’s certainly going to be interesting, especially since I’ll be speaking in Texas this coming October. I’m looking forward to having new stories to tell, it just makes me sad that there are so many like this.
        I’m glad to hear that you have these conversations with your sons. One of the biggest things I tell parent groups is that they need to work on becoming more involved with their kids digital lives. They need to work on being more proactive rather than reactive!

  2. Pingback: Just Kidding Still Doesn’t Cut It in the Online World | Breaking Down Digital Walls

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