5 Wacky Internet Pranks That Can Get You Jail Time
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 ...
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.
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 ...
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.
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.
Sneaking Into Other People's Email Accounts
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.