Last month a New York jury found a police officer guilty of crimes relating to his desire to kill and engage in cannibalism. Whether this was a just verdict or not is impossible for us to tell, given that we were not attending the trial and can only base our thoughts on what other news outlets reported. For the basis of this discussion, we will assume that the verdict was founded in law and based upon substantiated facts. In essence, we will assume that not only did this police officer write fantasy about his desire to kill and then eat his female victims, but he also did some overt acts in order to effectuate this plan and therefore, was rightfully convicted.
This case points out, as well as any, the fine line between freedom of speech and the right to communicate ideas and a plan for a criminal enterprise that could end up in incarceration. There probably is not one of us, who at some time has not said “I could kill that person”. Most of us, a vast majority of us, say those words as an expression with no intent to follow through on those meaningless words. However, should we utter those words and then go out of our way to track down that person or find out that person’s routine, are those mere words mere words anymore? Apparently, some juries say no and find that these words were part of a criminal plan.
We write on this subject because as the information age and the communication age move further and further, cases such as this are more likely to become commonplace. When we were growing up, that phrase “I could kill that person” was usually said between friends, family, relatives or at some place where only minimum people heard it and gave no thought to its context. Now, however, expressions such as that are put on Facebook, other social media, and in an instant, find their way to untold thousands for those words to live on for posterity. Since those words now live on forever, unrelated actions that take place some time in the future can and are judged in light of those words that were said previously, with no thought of the future.
We are much more guarded in what we say than are our children and their peers. This is not because we are lawyers and spend every given thought upon the legal repercussions of what is said. Rather, this is because we grew up in an era which was much more private, the word “friend” meaning someone that you felt close to, rather than someone that you want to add to a Facebook account. We grew up in an era where we did not announce to the world that we were going to the store, nor did we twitter about a pair of new shoes. Scantily clad pictures were rarely taken and certainly not for posting for all the inhabitants on this planet to view.
The new generation, or at least the generation newer than us, feel quite differently. Their every thought, their every musing and their every whim is out there to be judged by whomever decides to judge them. Their idea of privacy and ours have nothing in common. Their ability to speak and have that speech communicated dwarf their understanding of the repercussions of that speech.
As said above, and pointed out, there is a fine line between fanciful discourse and criminal plotting. One would hope that law enforcement and prosecutors would not be so quick to react to possibly disgusting and perverted discourse through the social media and on the internet. Yet, law enforcement and prosecutors live daily with the fear that the evidence of some horrific crime will be right in front of them and they chose not to view it seriously or to act upon it. After all, if that occurs, it will also be broadcast around the world.
In this light, we live in a society where everyone is scared not to read the tea leaves. Everyone is scared that they will blamed as much for inaction as they are for action. Therefore, we live in a world where any thought and any musing and any speech has the ability to be taken out of context. When that speech is broadcasted to everybody and circulated through the numerous social media and internet resources, it becomes more and more likely that someone will find it worthy of investigation and possibly worthy of legal or even law enforcement scrutiny.