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July 31st, 2013

Online Words Echo in the Offline World

Have you ever said something you didn’t mean?  Have you ever said something without thinking it through first?  Have you ever said something you regret?


Earlier this year, Justin Carter, a 19-year-old from Texas, got into an argument on Facebook over the online game “League of Legends.”  He responded to a comment someone made about him by posting what he thought was a sarcastic joke, even following it up with “JK” and “LOL.”  However, because of the words he chose, which included things that could be considered threats, someone who saw his post took him seriously and contacted the police.


Justin was arrested, sent to jail, and charged with making terroristic threats.  He’s now facing a possible sentence of more than eight years in prison.  If convicted, he could spend nearly a decade behind bars because of a post he made on Facebook.  It doesn’t matter that he was being sarcastic, that he thought he was making a joke, or that what he said was online.  He’s facing extremely serious, real world consequences.


I have heard things very similar to what Justin said, and even worse, while playing online video games.  I have also seen a lot of people say things online that they wouldn’t dare say in person.  I’ve lost count of the number of threats that I’ve read in comments on YouTube videos.  To many people, it’s become “normal” to behave this way online, as if the rules that apply everywhere else in life don’t apply.  However, it isn’t normal, and the rules do apply, as shown by what happened to Justin Carter.  What happened to him could have happened to nearly anyone.


It’s easy to feel invincible behind the safety of a monitor and a keyboard.  It’s easy to forget that the people you’re talking to on the other end are real people, just like you.  It’s easy to lose touch with reality.  It’s also easy to forget that, once posted online, things don’t go away.  A mistake made online in one brief moment can have an effect that will last for years.


Chances are, everyone reading this has said things they didn’t mean, things they didn’t think through before saying, and things they regret.  Some of those things were probably said online or via text.  We’re all human and we make mistakes.  Everyone makes poor choices sometimes.


However, there is a consequence for every negative decision in life.  Those negative decisions can include things that are posted online.  It doesn’t matter if it’s on an online video game, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, online posts can have real world consequences.  Sometimes, those consequences can be very serious, even life-changing.


The next time you’re tempted to post or say something online, think it through first.  Consider the consequences.  Ask yourself, “Should I say this?” or “Should I post this?”  Remember what happened to Justin Carter, and choose your words and actions wisely.

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