We should be preaching it over and over to our children: “Be careful what you say online”. Words that are written in such a public forum are impossible to take back, and can get you in hot water if not chosen wisely. It’s what got a local student in trouble, losing her status as school body President as well as the chance to speak before her graduating class at Graduation Ceremonies, when she chose to write ill thought-out words about her teacher. It has caused job loss as blogs that were thought of as private were suddenly made very, very public.
And it’s what caused the Secret Service to visit a school in Tacoma, Washington to follow up on what they deemed a threat to the President of the United States of America – from the Facebook page of a 13 year old.
Osama bin Laden had just been captured. All eyes were on the US as reactions varied from wild cheers to quiet reflection, stemming from a way of life that forever changed 10 years ago when al-Qaeda terrorists commandeered our planes into the Twin Towers and beyond. And as the world celebrated in their own way, a common thought that cautiously teetered in the corner of everyone’s mind were the fears over retaliation that might ensue. It was why many warned against the images of intense celebration that flashed across every TV news story about bin Laden’s death. It was why the burial at sea happened so quickly, and why photos of bin Laden’s death were banned from public view. And it was why 13 year old Vita LaPinta updated his Facebook status, stating that “Osama was dead and for Obama to be careful because there could be suicide bombers”, sending the Secret Service in a tizzy and causing them to arrive at his school and interrogate him on why he threatened the President.
It gets better. Vita’s mother, Timi Robertson, was alerted that her son was being interviewed by Secret Service agents, not by the principal, but by a Security Guard who thought she should be informed as the interview was taking place. Apparently, even though Vita was not allowed to do many things as a minor, he was still able to be interrogated without a guardian or lawyer present. The interview was 30 minutes underway before Timi arrived at the school to find out what the heck was going on, and why her son was suddenly being seen as a terrorist.
“I just about lost it,” she said. “My 13 year-old son is supposed to be safe and secure in his classroom and he’s being interrogated without my knowledge or consent privately.”
Thankfully it was determined that the 7th grader’s posting was merely an innocent statement rather than a verbal attack on the President. And as a result, Vito is way more careful about what he posts online, because nothing is private when it comes to the Internet. Everything you write can be seen by ANYONE – even those that aren’t on your “Friends” list. And what you say – from a simple hate message to a classmate to a perceived threat to the prez – can most definitely be held against you.
So watch what you say. And preach “online decency”, as well as the importance of thinking before typing, to your children.