Internet is a minefield, not a playground

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Two weeks ago, a 14-year-old Dutch girl named Sarah posted a « joke » on Twitter where she pretended to be an Al Qaeda terrorist about to « do something really big » to American Airlines. Some may argue she’s just an immature teenage girl who didn’t realize what she was doing. While that may be true, I believe free speech cannot be guaranteed if it disrupts public order. « If she is not made an example of, people will emulate her. And then our airline companies will have thousands of « fake » threats which they will not be able to determine which is real and which is fake », said Rob, one of the many online commentators on CNN.com. It already happened. Her prank garnered more than 10,000 retweets and inspired dozens of copycats. It seems nothing spreads as much as stupidity.

It’s all the more irritating when we know that « the National Counterterrorism Center gets about 8,000-10,000 potential threats a day » and that « the FBI’s online tip line alone received an average of 700 messages a day », as stated by Policymic.com. According to The Heritage Foundation, 50 terrorist attacks publicly known as Islamist-inspired terror plots targeting the United States have been foiled since 9/11.

Moreover, parents have a big responsibility for not stressing enough that the Internet is not a private place. Or as one of the commentators on the NY Daily News’ website wrote, under the moniker A Full Accounting: “if we are going to allow our children to access an unprotected space – any space, whether it be virtual or real, we as adults have the onus of being responsible if we fail to teach our citizens and fellows”. They need to remind them that a tweet or a Facebook post cannot be compared to a simple conversation with friends in the schoolyard, even when it’s only aimed at them. For that reason, I feel that the ones who deserve to be punished are Sarah’s parents, not the teenage girl herself. A prison sentence would be disproportionate. However, a heavy fine would force them to be more attentive to their daughter’s online behavior.

Mathieu Presseq