This is what Alexis Neiers would call a “learning lesson.”
Over the weekend, @QueenDemetriax_ tweeted a threat to American Airlines, claiming to be a terrorist named Ibrahim (cringe).
I’m just a 14 year old white girl I’m not a terrorist pls pic.twitter.com/MP4VeDNblw
— Liam Tyler (@LiamOliverTyler) April 14, 2014
And now the person behind @QueenDemetriax_ — a 14-year-old Dutch teenager — has been arrested.
“I always wanted to be famous, but I meant like Demi Lovato famous, not Osama bin laden famous,” she tweeted.
It’s such a weird, sad story. Read the storify here, as Sarah vacillates between delight and terror. “I’m scared what if they take me to jail omg.” “Okay today was the highlight of my twitter days.” “My terrorist tweet is in my bio lol.” “Omg I gained 3k followers today.” “At least I have something to tell at school tomorrow lol.”
It’s all the stages of scandal, rapid-fire. The insistence your account was hacked: “My account got hacked okay I didn’t tweet anything.” The tacit admission: “I changed my name to Ibraham.” The heartbreaking cluelessness: “Omg I got over 10k rts for that tweet omg.”
One of the things I remember most vividly about being a teenager on the Internet — or a teenager, full stop — was the sense that nothing was real yet. This isn’t a feature of everyone’s teenage years. You can only be that clueless if you’re lucky enough to be enveloped in a safety net that cushions all the more dubious consequences of your still-developing brain. Judging from her Twitter account, it sounds as though Sarah has that sort of net.
Know better? She literally thinks that “pls I’m a white girl” is a defense. “pls pls pls can I do something to make it good pls I’m so scared I’m just a 14 year old white girl I’m not a terrorist pls,” she tweeted to the airline. Nope.
“Never prank call 911,” my old swim teacher used to say, before letting us into the water to practice our water-treading and dog-paddling. “Never, ever prank call 911, because when they’re sending a fire engine to your house, the house across the street is burning down.”
It’s a good point. All calls have to be taken seriously. That’s the real danger in fake calls — that, because they are taken seriously, they take away time, energy and personnel from dealing with real threats. It’s a waste of resources.
But how seriously do we really have to take them?
I understand there’s a principle to maintain. But this is the absurd example. And it is just barely possible that if you waste a significant amount of time and resources investigating a threat by a Dutch teenager whose whole feed is named for her love of Demi Lovato, conclude that, in fact, she is a teenage fan of Demi Lovato who made a stupid prank, not an active member of al Qaeda — and then you actually arrest her, maybe the wasted time and resources are on you. Maybe this kind of one-size-fits-all approach is actually a problem.
She’s so clearly just a teenager — with all the desire for celebrity, moments of blinding idiocy, total inability to sense that other people exist or have feelings, and sense of invulnerability that implies.
Not that what she did wasn’t thoughtless and awful. Not that she doesn’t need to learn that words have consequences. On the Internet, no one can hear the giggling in the background.
But what’s the lesson here?
Never make a prank terrorist threat. Obviously. Goes without saying.
Also: It is easier than ever to be publicly, permanently, irreparably stupid. Before, you had to dress up and get on someone’s shoulders in a big suit if you wanted to make a fake threat. Now everything is a few characters away. And there’s no safe, defined space where you know that nothing you say is going to get taken too seriously and your words can’t come back to hurt you. You’re an adult until proven otherwise.
And then it’s too late.