We’ve been discussing the recent case in Britain involving 18-year-old Keeley Houghton, who posted a death threat on Facebook and was subsequently incarcerated. Specifically, the aggressor wrote the following on her own profile page, “Keeley is going to murder the bitch. She is an actress. What a ******* liberty. Emily ****head Moore.”
Those with whom I’ve talked are split on whether they agree with this sanction. In this case there had been a pattern of bullying behavior displayed by the aggressor against the target, who had been harassed face to face several times before the online incident occurred. Some may argue that free speech is being usurped, but just as you don’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater, you don’t threaten someone’s life in writing for the whole world to see. I think it’s correct for threats of this magnitude – whether physical or verbal to be taken seriously, as they may preempt needless and senseless violence. No threat should be taken lightly or regarded as meritless, and even those which may have been said in jest should be investigated and, if necessary, punished in some capacity. In this case, jail time was assigned. Will Keeley be deterred from doing something similar in the future? Will her friends, after hearing about what happened and seeing the reality of someone they know locked up? Will others across Britain who read or hear about the news story? I do believe this sends a message, and that some youth will definitely think more carefully about engaging in a similar behavior while communicating in cyberspace.