Trigger-(Un)Happy?

So a couple days ago, Kotaku posted this story about a boy who has been in prison for three months after making a poorly-thought-out comment on Facebook following a League of Legends game. If you don’t want to read the story, Justin Carter posted the following on his Facebook page: “Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head, I’m going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts,” followed by “lol” and “jk.” The important letters here are “jk” – “just kidding.”

Now I think this was tasteless, but given that Carter is 19 years old, I’m sure not the most tasteless thing he’s ever said, and certainly not the most tasteless thing that’s ever been associated with a LoL game. LoL is, in fact, almost legendary for the rude behavior of its players, as may be seen on their forums. Carter’s comment cannot possibly be the worst thing that has been said by a LoL player.

However, as Kotaku reports:

After seeing the comments on Facebook, an unidentified Canadian woman looked up Carter’s personal information, found an old address located near an elementary school and called the cops. The then-18-year-old Carter was subsquently [sic] arrested on February 14th on charges of making a terrorist threat and has been in custody awaiting trial for more than three months.

I’m not sure whether I’m more horrified that someone would go to all the trouble to look him up at an old address and call the authorities on him, or at the fact that he’s been arrested pending a hearing. Yes, what he said was awful, but the fact that authorities found no indication after a search that he had any intention of following through with his remark in any serious way suggests that he was, in fact, “jk.”

The fact that he did not make this statement repeatedly, did not send it to any authorities, and had no weapons makes the fact that he remains in prison (as opposed to being released or placed under house arrest) even more ridiculous, as he was arrested for making a “terrorist threat.” Do I think he shouldn’t have said it, especially on a public forum? Of course. But overreaction seems to be the theme of the year, from Carter to Kiera Wilmot (a 16-year-old arrested and expelled for a poorly done science experiment, whose expulsion was rescinded after the internet exploded in her defense – here’s her side of the story).

In both cases there seems to be more going on than meets the eye. For Wilmot, race almost certainly played a factor in the school’s decision, as did post-Sandy Hook paranoia. For Carter, games have undoubtedly contributed to his being labeled a threat to schoolchildren everywhere in the aftermath of blaming games for Columbine and Sandy Hook. Both were teenagers who made poor decisions. Neither actually damaged any property, tried to damage property, or caused injury to anyone. Neither has a reputation for “trouble.” Neither posses weapons or has a history of criminal or threatening behavior.

When I first started writing about not blaming games for violence, this was one of the things that concerned me about the finger-pointing going on in society. Allowing fear about the danger of videogaming to lead our society to knee-jerk arrest someone for an idle “jk” threat – in however poor taste – and keep them incarcerated for months (perhaps years) moves far too close to McCarthyism for my taste. Should Carter be punished for his bad choice? Sure. Make him do community service. Suspend his Facebook and/or gaming privileges. Put him through sensitivity training and make him work with an anti-bullying organization. But arrest? That’s going to make him more violent than playing any game ever would.