Several years ago, I convinced a lot of people on our message board to prank call a local radio DJ after he was mean to a friend of mine. You can imagine my surprise when I was arrested within a couple of hours, charged with, I guess, instigating phone shenanigans. (To this day I'm not completely sure they didn't just make up a law to charge me with.)
The point being, there's a whole lot of silly shit that people like me do online because there's this unspoken rule that what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet. That illusion is often shattered only by the sound of a cop kicking down your door.
Among the things that can get you into surprising amounts of legal trouble are ...
5Embarrassing Your Friends With Wacky Pranks
Ever photoshopped the head of your friend onto, say, some midget porn? Or set up a fake Facebook page to mock somebody at school? Or maybe just posted a video of a guy doing something embarrassing, like puking at your Halloween party?
Harvard'll love that.
You know, like these kids in Massachusetts, all 13 or 14 years old, who got together and created a Facebook profile for another student at their school. They then did what you and I would do after setting up a fake Facebook page, which is make it look like that person is spewing ridiculous insults toward everyone at the school (though we also might have opted for the old standby, the "I can prove Hitler was right" status update). All of the kids involved wound up charged with identity theft. The victim of the prank got harassed at school over it, then somebody complained to the police, and the Internet service provider was more than happy to help them track down the kids and that was that. (Hint: You're basically never anonymous online.)
No matter what mask you wear.
In Georgia, another kid got arrested and charged with criminal defamation for pulling the same prank. He got the stiffer charges because instead of posting wacky insults, he basically made it look like the victim was confessing to a crime. Turns out that's a big deal.
And of course in both cases there were young victims there, so you can see the cops stepping in to protect a kid. But then you have this Canadian student who set up a fake Facebook page assuming the role of one of his teachers. You know, the kind of smirking prank Ferris "hacked into the school computer to change his records" Bueller would have pulled off if Facebook had existed in 1986. Only this student got charged with personation, defined under Canadian law as impersonation with criminal intent (similar to identity theft in the U.S.).
The punishment, as with all infractions of Canadian law, is impalement by Mounties.
But of course all of this is skipping over the most famous example. Remember the "Star Wars Kid" meme? When teenager Ghyslain Raza filmed himself with a golf ball retriever pole, swinging it around like Darth Maul? He didn't upload it himself -- he just left the tape in the basement, where it was found by some kids who uploaded to every video hosting site they could find. It became the most widespread viral video in Internet history. The part of that story you might not know is that the kids who uploaded it wound up probably paying enough money to buy Star Wars Kid a house.
It turns out Raza had to drop out of school because of the constant harassment and undergo psychiatric treatment.
"I'll jam this right into your goddamn eye. Don't fuck with me."
His parents filed a $250,000 lawsuit against the families of the four boys who uploaded the video. It was settled out of court, and we'll never know how much they had to pay. But we know it was enough to make it worth it to the family to not go for the quarter-million. And we're going to take a wild guess and say it's way, way more than a bunch of teenagers thought they'd have to pay for making the school nerd look stupid.