Raise your hand if you have never in your life said about a co-worker, "I'm gonna kill that guy!" or about a football team, "They're gonna get killed in the playoffs."
On the Internet, where everything is exaggerated and everybody feels a little more free to talk shit, we're even more prone to this kind of meaningless murder talk. It's a form of stress relief. We've all wrapped up a bad day by getting home, sighing and logging on to the Web. By the time we run out of porn and stop crying, we're good and drunk and ready to vent some frustration over Facebook or Twitter or whatever tab we happen to have open.
Hey, it beats screaming into the neighbors' open window.
That brings us to Paul Chambers, who as far as we know wasn't even drunk when he was traveling to meet his girlfriend. He was excited. His boner was primed and ready to go. He was probably all prepared to sling some dick ... when he arrived at Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster, U.K., and found it closed.
He logged onto his Twitter account to vent, saying "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"
He had neither the intentions nor means to blow up the airport, any more than millions of fans in sports bars across America had the means to actually choke Brett Favre for throwing that interception that cost the Vikings a trip to the Super Bowl. Like those guys screaming over their beers, Chambers was just talking shit.
"I'm getting laid if it means taking out your whole fucking country!"
But you can guess what happened next. The "threat" was found in an Internet search by an airport employee who passed it on to police, and a week or so later, Chambers found himself in jail. His home was raided, his computer was confiscated as evidence, and he lost his job after the trial was over.
Then you have Walter Bagdasarian, who was participating in the most common pastime in Internet political discussion: talking shit about the president. Two weeks before Barack Obama got elected, Bagdasarian tied one on and logged into a Yahoo Finance board, unleashing a flurry of racial slurs and empty threats, including, "Fk the niggar, he will have a 50 cal in the head soon."
What good would a 50's calendar do?
Well ... that's pretty bad, but the "let's hope Obama is murdered" thing is an entire industry, complete with T-shirts advocating it. Calls for assassination are constant at FreeRepublic.com. (Sample: "all the speculation about 0bama being the actual Antichrist will either be confirmed or denied if someone gets off a lucky shot at the SOB.")
But, as you can guess, several Yahoo members reported Bagdasarian's post, and it made its way to the Secret Service. Before he knew it, Bagdasarian was balls deep in a river of fucked. He was arrested and later posting a $100,000 bond.
The secret service isn't known for fucking around.
But that's expected, because you can't threaten the president, right? Even if it was just one of millions of drunk guys spewing ridiculous bile?
But how about something a little more common, like online gaming trash talk? You can pretty much say whatever the hell you want on an online game and get away with it. That's why Xbox Live is 80 percent racism and 20 percent violent threats.
"You don't play video games very well! Raaarr!"
Well, Allieu Shaw was playing Call of Duty 4 when he started trash-talking about "shooting up the school." One of the other players contacted the police, who traced Shaw back to his dorm and the next day, several schools in the area were put on lockdown status. Shaw's own campus was reported to have more than 40 cops patrolling at one point.
They arrested him and took him away in handcuffs, then proceeded to search his room to find exactly no weapons. The university suspended him, pending its own investigation.
Public Enemy No. 1.
Just to be clear, don't think for one second I'm trying to give the other guy shit for turning him in. I'd have done the same if somebody said he was going to shoot up his school -- even if you're only right one time in a thousand, it's better to let somebody know. That's a hell of a lot better than saying nothing and seeing it on the news later.
It's just that it's so easy to forget that, when talking to strangers online, nobody can tell the difference between legitimate threats and what (to you) is exaggerated or "ironic" trash talk.
"If you don't stop camping, I swear to God I'll paint myself silver and shoot you in the face.
In my spare time, I fix computers for people. Mostly just cleanup work, clearing off all the porn malware. But by far the most frequent question I get is, "Can you hack into my girlfriend's email?" You know, not to do anything illegal or anything like that. Just to see if she's talking to other dudes!
Jealousy is the basis of all healthy relationships.
Most of you probably wouldn't do that. But if, say, your roommate or classmate left himself logged in to Gmail or Facebook or Twitter, why, who could resist using his name to post tons and tons of dongs?
And you know what would be even more hilarious? Doing it to someone famous! Like the Frenchman who password-guessed his way into Obama's Twitter account ... and into a possible two-year prison sentence.
Twitter crimes don't put you in a high place in the prison pecking order.
He wasn't doing it to be malicious or to run a scam, and he wasn't doing it to facilitate some larger crime or to steal state secrets. Guessing the password is all he did. And while it's true that the authorities cared more because it was the president of the USA, under the law it makes no difference -- he was prosecuted under a French law that prohibits unauthorized access to databases (pretty much every country has that law or at least a form of it on the books).
So whether he logged in to Obama's Twitter, or yours, or John Cockspank's, the consequences would be the same. It's just a matter of whether John Cockspank is willing to press charges.
And let's not forget that 4chan poster who famously got into Sarah Palin's Yahoo email account. David Kernell is serving a year in federal custody for that stunt. Wait a second ... he did it on 4chan, right? Isn't it anonymous? Don't they call themselves Anonymous? They don't even have user IDs there.
Or toilet paper, most of the time.
Well, not only that, but he was behind a proxy when he posted.
Remember what I said earlier: You can always be found. So there's your lesson for today: Participate in 4chan tomfoolery and you, too, might find yourself in court watching 4chan's owner, Chris "moot" Poole, testifying from the witness stand.
Even if you use a proxy.
Learn how else the feds can bust you in our brand new Cracked.com book!
For more from John, check out 5 Internet Life Lessons Parents Need to Start Teaching Kids and The 4 Most Important Things to Know as a Gamer Parent.