Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Walls Have Ears

People you don’t know, from around the world, can see what you post on social media sites, apparently no matter how your privacy settings are set. This is one of several problems using social media. 

I’m sure you’ve read about Justin Carter, the teen who is facing felony terrorism charges because of
an alleged threat to go on a shooting spree. According to Justin and his father, Jack, the comment was a sarcastic response to another player over the online video game "League of Legends." 

According to CNN the court documents stated that “Justin wrote "I'm f---ed in the head alright. I think I'ma (sic) shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them." Jack Carter said his son followed the claim with "LOL" and "J/K" -- indicating that the comment wasn't serious.”

A woman in Canada saw the comments and alerted authorities to what she perceived was a threat. A judge issued a warrant for Justin’s arrest. Justin’s bail was set at an extraordinarily high $500,000. 00. Justin spent months in jail where he was beaten by other inmates, moved to solitary confinement and kept nude “for his own protection.”

An anonymous, good Samaritan posted Justin’s bail and he is now living back with his parents awaiting trial on felony terrorism charges.

This may be an extreme case but the consequences of strangers reading conversations they are not a party to can have less extreme, but nonetheless damaging results.

While living in Pennsylvania I spent an evening on Facebook conversing with people through threads and posting music from YouTube. It was an average evening for me at the time. (I’ll write about that part of my life another time as well). One of the conversations another woman and I were involved in was a match of who could outdo whom with the worst childhood. She posted something about getting hit with a switch she had to cut from a Weeping Willow tree herself and I’d post that I was hit with a 2x4 I had to saw out of the rafters myself. I posted that my upbringing was the cause of me going to bed with a box of wine every night and she posted that she went to bed with a whiskey barrel. It went back and forth like that for some time. I can see, somewhat, how someone just happening upon this thread and maybe not reading it all and not knowing the people involved would think the comments made were true. 

Guess what? That’s exactly what happened. Someone in Texas, believe it or not, happened upon it. This woman was neither my Facebook friend nor the friend of the person I was conversing with. She was the Facebook friend of a Facebook friend of the woman I was conversing with. Sheesh! Another issue with social media sites, there should be a name for people who are connected online in a weird 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon kinda-way. Maybe "first friend once removed" or "second friend" or something along those lines. Even though my privacy settings were set on only my friends having the capability
of reading my posts, I was commenting on someone else’s post and subject to her privacy settings. Someone who I didn’t know but who knew my mother reported the entire conversation to her.
It didn’t take long for me to receive an email from my mother stating that she knew what I was telling people and never wanted to see me again. I was stunned. I was completely blindsided. I had no idea why my mother didn’t want to see me again or even what my mother was talking about. 

People who know me know that I was raised one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ll write more about that at a later time too. But for now I will tell you why that is important to know for this writing. Jehovah’s Witnesses are The Patriot Act of religion incarnate. They are trained to inform on one another for a variety of “sins.” This is presumably to assist the “sinner” in turning away from the bad behavior
and return to the fold. In reality it is juicy gossip that people love to convey to intentionally wound the receiver. An “I did my job for God,” good deed. I was no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses but my mother and the informant were.

The email led me to call my mother to find out why she disowned me this time. A few things had come to mind. Possibly the boudoir pictures a friend took of me recently, the tattoos, what?  That’s when she told me that she had learned
through some “third party” that I was airing out the family’s dirty laundry on Facebook. The tattoo disowning would come later. After telling her the truth about the conversation and letting her know my disgust that she would believe someone I didn’t even know over her own daughter, I realized how scary it was that someone I didn’t know, living across the country, saw something I wrote in what I considered a private conversation. I felt like my house was bugged. 

I was very wrong to think that any conversation posted on a social media site is private. I learned my lesson. But the person reading that conversation was also wrong. She had no idea what the conversation was really about and she didn’t know either of the people involved in the conversation.  And she had no business acting on anything she imagined the conversation might have been about. Tattling on a 40+ year old to her mother is pretty outrageous behavior, but as I said, that’s what Witnesses are taught to do. But she also caused a rift between my mother and me. My mother didn’t need any help in finding an excuse for a rift but help she got.  This strange episode in the Facebook saga led to a few sleepless nights and a hell of a lot of anxiety for me.

In Justin’s case, if the Canadian woman had read more of the conversation she might have seen the “LOL” and “JK” that Justin posted after his sarcastic comment and realized it wasn’t a threat. If she knew Justin personally she might have known that he wouldn’t do such a heinous act. But she was a
stranger watching a conversation from a distance.

And yes, if Justin had thought through his comment before posting it, he might have thought better of posting it. I’ve posted many things and later thought, Uh-oh that could be taken soooo not how I intended. We all have but most of us aren’t up on felony charges because of it.

to be continued . . .