The United States of Crazy: You Can Now Go to Jail for a Sarcastic Facebook Comment
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Read the original version of the following article on Reader Supported News
Update: An anonymous donor has posted a $500,000 bond to allow Justin Carter to leave jail as he awaits trial.
On the Fourth of July - Independence Day - the Wall Street Journal ran a freedom-oriented story with a headline that began: "Teen Jailed for Facebook Posting …"
In Texas last winter, a working 18-year-old was jailed, and is still being held on $500,000 bail, because a Canadian woman reported a single, frivolous Facebook post that he had marked "LOL" (laughing out loud) and "jk" (just kidding). Ignoring those cues, local police went ahead and charged him with "terroristic threatening." Really? That is darkly humorous even in post-terrified America.
The Journal didn't frame the story as a First Amendment travesty however, even though by any rational measure a Facebook posting is speech, and the Journal, like most of the rest of us, has a thing about free speech sometimes.
In all too typical mass media fashion, the Journal framed the story with an irrelevant, sensationalist, semi-hysterical reference to the real shooting of real kids half a continent away, two months earlier, in a school in Newtown, Connecticut. The Journal omitted the possibility that Justin Carter was hardly aware of Newtown, but maybe that's more dark humor.
Maybe He Was Unaware of the News, or Maybe He Was Referring to Syria
"Justin was the kind of kid who didn't read the newspaper. He didn't watch television. He wasn't aware of current events. These kids, they don't realize what they're doing. They don't understand the implications. They don't understand public space," his father, Jack Carter, told KVUE-TV in Austin on June 24. This was the first significant news coverage of the case, which has now gone national.
To be fair to the Journal in its unfair framing and lazy journalism, the Austin Police bought into the "Newtown Massacre" framing from the start, not bothering, apparently, to investigate whether that panic-reaction had any basis in Justin Carter's reality. Or maybe the Austin police were being darkly humorous, too, since they didn't bother to interview their "terrorist" suspect for a month. The New Braunfels police waited about the same length of time to search his apartment, where they reportedly found no weapons or any other incriminating evidence.
This sorry story of law enforcement overreaction and incompetence began innocently enough in February 2013, when Carter and a friend, as they often did, were playing an online video game called "League of Legends." The game involves other online players interacting in real time. It is in the nature of the game, apparently, to talk trash to anyone involved, including strangers.
One Person's Trash Talk Turns Out to Be Terrorist Threatening in Texas
This time the trash talk spilled over onto Facebook, where someone apparently called Carter crazy or said he was "messed up in the head." Carter's mother, Jennifer Carter, talked about the event on freetoplay.tv on June 29:
February 13th was when he was playing League of Legends and I'm not sure, and no one seems to be sure, why it spilled over into Facebook, but it did. There were a few people involved in this argument and there was some post made on the site while they were playing and so when he was on Facebook the person whose Facebook page it was said "Well you're f****d in the head and crazy." And Justin, if you knew my son, is incredibly sarcastic.
He has a very sarcastic, dark sense of humor and he unfortunately said the equivalent of "Oh yeah I'm so messed in the head I'm going to go kill a kindergarten and eat their hearts." Immediately after his statement he posted "lol" and "j/k" and the argument continued from there, but the only evidence we have from the DA's office is a screen capture of his statement and the previous statement. Just Justin's and the previous statement.
Lynching Is Easier with Limited Evidence and No Context