Just Kidding Still Doesn’t Cut It in the Online World

In July of 2013 I wrote about a young man named Justin Carter who posted a threatening status update on Facebook resulting in his arrest. This story has since become a cautionary tale that I have travelled all over the country with. The moral of the story being that “just kidding” doesn’t cut it in the online world.

American Airlines 737-800 N966ANThis week a young Dutch girl, “Sarah”, is learning that same lesson in front of a global audience.

On Sunday April 13th, Sarah posted to her account “@AmericanAir hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.”

Six minutes later American Airlines issued its reply: “Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.”

In the first of a series of meltdown tweets Sarah posted “OMFG I was kidding”

I’ve said it one, twice, hundreds of time. Just kidding doesn’t cut it in the online world.

Under Dutch Law, Sarah was arrested and charged with “posting a false or alarming announcement.” The consequences of this arrest are still unclear but she was questioned on Monday night by police following her arrest.

As a result of her arrest, it now seems that hundreds of teens around the world are following in Sarah’s footsteps by posting threatening messages to American and other airlines. More disturbing are the number of people cheering them on.

On Facebook, one user posted “Dozens of teenagers are tweeting bomb jokes to American Airlines. You know what? Good for them! People who make jokes are not terrorists. That is why they are terrorists in the first place; no room for levity.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good joke. I think we need to laugh about things as a way of dealing with them.6426_665667343469795_7182226331579116446_n

Threatening to blow up a plane? Not funny at all regardless of how much you are kidding or thinking that no one will actually see/respond to your post.

I’m speaking as someone who watched the planes hit the twin towers and then watched them fall. I’m speaking as someone who experienced and felt the horror of the Boston Marathon bombings one year ago.

I don’t find this funny at all.

American has since deleted the tweet and Sarah’s account was deactivated after she had taken it private.

American airlines has come under fire for the arrest of the young girl but it’s important to realize that by all accounts, Dutch police took action on their own accord based on the aforementioned law. On Monday, following the arrest, the airline did comment on the matter by simply stating “At American, the safety of our passengers and crew is our number one priority.  We take security matters very seriously.”

Sarah is learning her lesson the hard way and I truly hope that the copycats who are out there posting threats in protest of her arrest learn that same lesson as well. As they flood the cyber world with these posts they need to understand that airlines have no choice but to take these threats seriously regardless of how farfetched they may seem. This means that their social media employees (probably along with the FAA, FBI and other law enforcement) are tracking down and reporting each of these messages and who posted them.

For students everywhere I see this as a learning experience. It’s something that I brought up with students today and I encourage parents and educators to take the time to do the same.

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 www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

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

One thought on “Just Kidding Still Doesn’t Cut It in the Online World

  1. Pingback: Teaching Internet Safety: It Takes A Village | Breaking Down Digital Walls

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