Last week, a 14-year-old Dutch teenager taught the cyber world a valuable lesson when it comes to the dos and don’ts of social media: Never, under any circumstances, tweet fake bomb threats at an airline. Though this lesson would appear obvious to most people, it was one that required the young Twitter user (otherwise known as @QueenDemetriax_, or “Sarah”) to turn herself in and face arrest by Dutch authorities in Rotterdam, according to CNN. Though some have written off the young user’s actions as a misguided prank, even the most harmless of jokes that deal with airline security are simply not funny.
It all began with a tweet. On Sunday, April 13, Sarah sent a tweet to American Airlines reading, “hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.”
The tweet prompted a near-immediate response from American Airlines saying, “Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.”
The remainder of the conversation between “Sarah” and American Airlines progressed from fear (with “Sarah” tweeting “I’m so sorry I’m scared now” and “I’m f—-ing 14 years old, do they think I’m gonna blow up a plane or something. I’m just stupid ok.”) to jubilation (with “Sarah” tweeting “I feel famous omg” and “Okay today was the highlight of my twitter days”), yet the conclusion was ultimately clear: The anonymity of the Internet doesn’t excuse the gravity of situations that involve airline security — not even for misguided kids.
In a day and age in which flight security is of the utmost importance, such pranks cannot and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. Though online threats might appear to be harmless on the surface, they are nonetheless treated with the same seriousness as any other type of threat — as they should be. Some tweets are intended as jokes, but others could very well not be. Unfortunately, stunts like the one “Sarah” pulled are not entirely uncommon.
In 2010, 28-year-old Paul Chambers was charged for “menacing electronic communication” after posting an ill-advised tweet ranting about his cancelled flight in which he said, “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!!,” according to the Guardian. Though his conviction was eventually thrown out in 2012 on an appeal, the tweet cost him time, money and two jobs.
Though one could make the argument that federal investigations into harmless posts on social media might be an overreaction, the fact of the matter is that the rules that apply to speech and expression and social media are the same that apply to any other sort of public forum. In the same way that one cannot simply yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater, one cannot presume that they can say whatever they’d like in social media without regard for serious consequences — especially when it comes to issues as serious as public safety and security. Such actions only cause unnecessary panic and waste valuable time and resources that could have otherwise been allocated toward confronting serious threats.
Though “Sarah” has since been charged with posting a false or alarming announcement, a crime under Dutch law, it is yet to be determined what her punishment will be, according to CNN. Whatever her punishment might look like, however, it is safe to say this is one lesson she will never forget.
Yasmeen Serhan is a sophomore majoring in international relations. She is also the Editorial Director of the Daily Trojan.