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 ...
#5. Embarrassing 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.
#4. Nude Photo Shenanigans
If you can't use Photoshop to crop your friend's head onto a naked person's body, then we're not sure what Photoshop is for. Hell, somebody sticking the head of the boss onto a porn star's body was the basis of a whole episode of The Office (the British version).
The American version actually has someone who looks like a porn star.
For all we know, that episode may have been what inspired a guy named Osa Bezue to take the driver's license photos of at least two female coworkers and photoshop their heads onto naked Internet women. He uploaded them to the internet and bam -- jail. Yeah, it turns out that's considered cyber stalking. Oh, and by the way, he was also a cop, so he gets the added charge of "malfeasance while in office."
OK, so what about real naked photos? You know, like how the good guys in Revenge of the Nerds planted cameras in the sorority house and later sold topless pics of the hottest girl? That can't be a big deal, right? Maybe I just hang out with the wrong crowd, but almost everyone I know has had a nude photo taken of them at least once in their lives. Actually, maybe that makes them the right crowd. And I'd be shocked if my dick isn't on the Internet somewhere. You know, like in the background at a party or something.
Screw FIOS. Patron is the fastest road to the Internet.
But if so, the uploader could be looking at jail time. Ask Marcus Bustos, who posted nude photos of his ex-girlfriend and wound up being brought up on the same cyber stalking charges, coupled with intimidation.
Yeah, but what if the girl posts photos of herself? Isn't that what webcams are for? You know, like this high school student, who sent out pics of herself to dudes she met in chatrooms.
Yeah, that's child porn. She was 15, and if you're thinking it was the dudes who got busted for possessing the illicit material, you're wrong -- she got charged for distributing it. Since she was underage when she took those pictures, she was charged with sexual abuse of children and dissemination of child pornography. And since her computer contained those pictures of herself ... possession of child pornography. Even though the child in question was her. Doesn't matter.
Justice is blind. And also retarded.
Google shows hundreds upon hundreds of these exact cases where teens do the sort of thing teens do, unaware that they're committing a felony in the process. The same can be said for ...
#3. Boasting About How Much Weed You Smoke, Dude
By my count, approximately 97 percent of the world's online gaming profiles reference weed in the username or avatar. Millions upon millions of forum profiles do the same, and people talk and joke so openly about how they totally smoke weed every day that it's actually pretty easy to forget that the shit is still illegal.
Above: The video game industry's secret fuel.
For instance, we have Rajneel Kumar who, along with millions and millions of others, posted pretty consistently on his MySpace page about his smoking and growing of marijuana. The problem is that he lived about a block away from an elementary school, and some people who didn't like that idea turned him in.
When the police raided his home, they found half a pound of weed, along with the bonus of two ounces of meth and shitloads of paraphernalia.
That's actually his beard.
Well ... he did live close to a school. We suppose we can see how parents wouldn't want their kids getting a contact high from ... uh, walking past his house or whatever. But then you have this guy, who was growing a single hemp plant and documenting its stages in videos that he uploaded to YouTube. Police collected the videos, which gave them more than enough evidence to raid his home and confiscate not only the plant but all of his hydroponics equipment. Luckily, he got off with a warning, which is why his name wasn't released by the police department.
We can't say the same for Rachel Stieringer. She took a picture of her baby looking like it was smoking (an empty) bong. You know, as a joke. She posted it on Facebook, then was immediately arrested on drug charges and became the subject of a Department of Children and Families investigation, which could lead to her losing her child. Not to mention the fact that any future employer who does a quick Google search of her name gets page after page of that story.