In this day and age, it’s probably not surprising to hear that there is a thing called the Secret Service Internet Threat Desk. The group exists to monitor and protect the safety of the President and his family.
An article this week in The Atlantic (linked above) reveals some background around how the group carries out its mission, and it is quite fascinating. One example that was spawned by a series of Twitter posts:
“One series of tweets addressed to @POTUS that caught the Secret Service’s attention—at least enough to warrant an in-person visit from an agent—came from a user with the handle @jeffgully49 and included a picture showing a doctored version of the president’s campaign posters with his head in a noose and the word “HOPE” changed to “ROPE.” The messages were apparently posted by Jeff Gullickson of Plymouth, Minnesota, who was later visited at his home by a Secret Service agent. “The agent from the secret service was cordial,” Gullickson wrote in an email to MPR News, adding that the agent just wanted to be sure his tweets were not serious threats.”
In that case, the tweeter was rewarded with a visit from the Secret Service, but nothing more happened. The Secret Service had the luxury of taking time to decide what the tweeter’s intention was, and the duty of conducting an in-person interview. In the end, no big deal. Still, though, the article goes on to outline how difficult it can be to determine whether something posted on Facebook or Twitter is a rant or a threat.
In the case of young adults and teens, this risk can be very real – not with respect to threatening the President but rather to every single thing that you post. There is a chance that it will be read, and evaluated, by someone who is deciding your short-term fate.
If you jokingly threaten a friend online, or make a snide comment about a certain race or gender, who knows how much time a college admissions officer or hiring manager will take to decide what your intent was? In our experience, not much.
The chances are good that the person seeing the post will decide – in a split second – that it’s not worth making that evaluation at all. Too much risk, too hard to tell. Move on to the next candidate.
This advice is getting very common now, but it’s still true: Think before you post. Don’t just consider what your intent is; consider how it may be perceived by someone reading it who knows nothing about you. It could make a difference in which college you got to or what your job options are.
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