After reading Gamespot’s report that Justin Carter’s trial will continue, I wanted to jot some thoughts down and see where we all stand on the whole situation. Here is a shortened (TL;DR) version of the case according to Gamespot, CNN, Huffington, and local Texas news entities.
Justin Carter is a 19-year-old gamer from New Braunfels, Texas. Back in February, he was nerd raging over a League of Legends game and allowed an argument to carry over onto Facebook. Someone called him crazy, and most reports indicate that Carter said ”I’m f***ed in the head alright. I think I’ma (sic) shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them.” Carter then followed up these statements with a “lol” and “jk.”
A Canadian woman saw the comments, Google mapped Justin’s location and noticed he lived near an elementary school, and contacted the police. Carter was arrested on Valentine’s Day and jailed from March 27th until mid-July, when an anonymous donor put up his $500,000 bail.
Carter’s defense attorney has claimed that the sarcastic comments constitute no violation of the law when taken in their proper context, and moved to quash the indictment. This motion was denied this last Monday, December 23rd.
First off, I take this as a very important lesson about online gaming, the internet and the world we live in. Too often I (and many others) believe that because online games aren’t real, there are no possible consequences for the things we say in them. That is completely false. Think about it: League of Legends, WoW and other games can access a record of chat logs. People are banned every day for spamming or trolling the in-game chat. My new PS4 records all gameplay and voice chat for the convenience of being able to share my achievements instantly. But if I can play it back, so can PlayStation Network. An Xbox One user was given a one day ban from Xbox Live almost immediately for using naughty language, so Microsoft is already monitoring its users. Lets not even get into all the crazy NSA stories we all hear. Hopefully, the next time I am blindly nerd-raging and about to say something nasty, I can remember all of this.
This notion goes double/triple/x1,000 for Facebook and social media. I tell my family members this all the time: the first rule of Facebook/Twitter/etc. is that everything you post is going to be seen by people that you don’t know or don’t expect to be reading it. I don’t care if you have cranked the privacy settings up to mega agoraphobic shut-in status and only show your cat. Someone you don’t know, even if it is only an administrator or employee, will see it. Maybe Justin Carter meant what he said. I think it is more likely that he was being sarcastic and said what he did for the shock value. Regardless, he clearly believed that his Facebook conversation was harmless and was only taking place between two people. He was wrong.
As for what he said, it was awful. Nobody is disputing that. There is never a good time to “joke” about murdering children, but 2 months after the Sandy Hook school shootings is an especially bad time to do it. People around the globe are always going to be hypersensitive to a particular issue after a tragedy like that makes international news. I imagine that Carter knew this, and that’s why he said it– for that extra sting.
I also know what League of Legends can do to a person. When you combine an extremely competitive atmosphere with a toxic community, bad things can happen. Games are high-stress, and just one tiny mistake in a 45+ minute long game can cause you and 4 other people to lose. The community feels this stress and lashes out. Trolls are everywhere. People are so mean to each other that Riot Games had to create a volunteer organization (the Tribunal) to help police the game. In close to 3,000 games, I have been called every terrible thing in the book. I would venture to say that “the book” people mention in that common phrase has grown in size since League of Legends was released. I am not saying that this excuses anything that Justin said or did, but I am able to empathize on a minimal level with his momentary anger from a silly game.
His local Texas court does not share that empathy. The investigators, prosecution and the case’s judge believe that there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a trial. They see the words on a piece of paper or computer screen and take them very seriously. And it is very serious. The teenager spent his 19th birthday in jail, which I am sure hammered home the gravity of the situation. If a school shooting can be prevented, it must be. I am firmly on board with that.
But I can’t help but feel that this kid is being made an example of. Isn’t a $500,000 bail a little high for an 18-year-old with no priors? Isn’t the 8 year prison sentence offered in a plea bargain a little rough for a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years? Did he mention which school or when? Did he talk about having guns or a plan of attack? Does he collect memorabilia/news clippings or romanticize school shootings in any way? He wasn’t even playing a particularly violent game before the incident. I get the feeling that the powers that be in his hometown, who probably don’t play games or use Facebook often, are going to let Millennials all around the world know just what happens when you laze about all day playing video games and mouthing off on social media.
Look, the kid messed up. He deserves some punishment. That could be anger management counseling, probation, monitoring/limiting his internet use or access to guns or schools, whatever. Take him out back and slap him around a little bit for all I care. But to send a kid to prison from age 20-30 for a sarcastic hypothetical statement made on social media just seems a little too harsh for me. We will have to wait and see what the court proceedings leak out. If there is a reasonable fear of him hurting children, then lock him up and throw away the key.
We are all being watched. It hasn’t quite reached 1984 status, but it is a fact of life. Accept it. My generation will be the first to leave a concrete digital record of almost every event in our lives. Your facebook and twitter accounts will be in museums some day. If you take a picture of your friend passed out drunk at a party, it may end up in a history book someday. I really believe that.
Will you take Justin’s indictment or these ideas into account when you update your status? Where do you stand on the issue? Let me know in the comments.
Originally featured on Corrupted Cartridge