The nations’ teenagers may be testing the limits of free speech today as they test the response of airlines to terrorist threats made in jest. Earlier today, Dutch authorities announced that they arrested a teenager who made a threat to American Airlines via Twitter. The 14-year-old Rotterdam native was arrested, though no charges had been leveled at the time of the last statement from the country’s authorities.
Business Insider brought attention to a copycat threat from another Twitter teen. The user, who uses the adorable @twerkcunt handle, sent a message to Southwest Airlines identifying himself as a terrorist and warning of a nondescript explosion “taking place soon.” The teen’s Twitter account is otherwise littered with racial epithets, threats against Barack Obama and his family, and cap-lock character-attacks on various Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) users.
Hoax bomb threats could become a problem
Teens are quick to jump on a trend, and those looking for attention may have found one which guarantees it, albeit from the authorities. The arrest of the Dutch girl for her transparently innocuous joke points to a lack of triage for social media threats. If a thousand or a million such threats were made tomorrow, which ones would the authorities ignore? Why go after those today if it’s clear there is no harm intended?
Not crying fire in a crowded movie theater is one of the commonly listed exceptions to the first amendment. Airline staff and passengers have to deal with perceived terrorist threats every time they fly. It is unclear whether or not hoax messages actively harm those people, or whether they can be written off as a joke. Either way, there are questions to be asked of the thousands of people that retweeted the original message from the Dutch teen. Were they renewing the threat, or merely drawing attention to that made by somebody else?
Shouting fire in a crowded theater
The apparent misunderstanding of social media privacy settings by much of the country’s teenagers has narrowed the divide between the private and the public sphere. Teenagers seem unthinking in their display of private content to the entire world as well as their friends. The problem comes when media outlets pick up the tweets, which are there to be read, and make them into a news story.
Publicizing those short messages delivers them into the public sphere, and makes the world a more difficult place to understand. Satire is welcome, but, given the eternal flow of content lacking context from the internet, satire is difficult to find and define. That means that all threats have to be taken seriously by authorities.
Teens are unlikely to ever filter themselves, and Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) certainly doesn’t want to filter them. It is up to the media, which does a poor job of prioritizing content, and authorities, who seem lost in a sea of internet nonsense, to understand and filter threats and idle conversation. either that or the NSA should use its billion-dollar computers to put an end to the uncertainty.