Editor’s note: This story is the fifth of a regular series focusing on public misconceptions dealing with law enforcement and the process agencies go through with their jobs.
Between computer and cell phone keypads, ever-evolving technology has opened up more opportunities for instigators to incite online quarrels. Law enforcement’s best advice when dealing with online aggressors, commonly known as keyboard warriors, is to simply ignore it or better yet, for the instigators, don’t post it.
“Think about it. People should take a day to think about things before they react. Facebook makes it instant, and they can’t take it back,” said Monroe County Chief Deputy Kevin Crook.
A different way to bully
Hidden behind a screen and a keyboard, anyone can act bigger and more confidently than they actually act in person.
“When you think of someone who’s ‘bullying’ you, you think retaliation in your mind. Everybody does; it’s human nature. But what do you do in reality out in front of everybody? Most of the time, you ignore them and walk away. You have to have the same mentality on the internet. Instead of being that keyboard warrior, be the same as you are in public, meaning take the high road,” said Amory Police Department Investigator Andy Long.
He added technology aids in fueling fights that may have no merit when the same people are face to face.
“I wish you had a way of putting the video in the newspaper of the two dogs that are chomping at each other through the glass door. As soon as the door opens, they all quit barking and they all run around like friends. You’ve got your keyboard warriors that are the exact same way. They’re sitting at a desk, they’re high and mighty, they’re know all, and some of them love to stir a pot. The majority of your TV and reality shows are dramas. That’s a lot of drive in some humans’ minds is drama,” Long said.
The concept applies to adults as much as it does juveniles.
“I don’t know where the parental guidance comes in. Sometimes it turns into cyberbullying,” said Monroe County Interim Sheriff Curtis Knight.
Cyberbullying deals with using electronic mail, words or language to threaten to inflict body harm, physical injuries or to extort money or things or other value.
Knight said cyberbullying is more prevalent with juveniles, and more serious cases could lead to youth court and even circuit court appearances.
“On some cases, that falls into the same as cyberstalking. If somebody gets arrested, especially with domestic violence, part of the bond may say you can’t have any contact physically or electronically. Everybody kind of thinks, ‘When I get out, I’m going to give her a piece of my mind,’ but that could be a violation of that bond. It’s the same as a restraining order,” he said of other cases involving adults.
Heated exchanges through social media posts and text messages could potentially lead to telephone harassment and threats or intimidation by letter or electronic notice charges.
“I think the biggest thing that needs to happen before you even involve law enforcement is ask if you’ve done what’s required to the best of your ability to not conversate and not carry on and not instigate,” Long said. “I’d say 85 to 90 percent who come to us are still bickering, and they’re just the first ones to come to us. When you get in front of that judge, the judge is going to see that you took part in that as well. If you did that, the majority of these cases wouldn’t come to us.”
Even more disconnected
Even as personally disconnected as airing grievances through electronics can be, if such a case makes it to court, it has to be proven who made the threats, as violators could easily use someone else’s phone or online account.
Knight said if someone offers for someone else to use a cell phone for threatening texts, the phone’s owner is guilty too.
Long said several online incidences stem from people in former relationships and quarrels. In some cases, other people chime in on the conversation to choose sides if one of the parties posts a status online about it.
Even before ignoring any threats that may arise online, people being harassed should document all of the occurrences.
“Instead of agreeing to disagree, there’s hardly any more of that. There’s hardly any, ‘You had your 2 cents; let me have my 2 cents.’ It’s a lot more of the last word mentality,” Long said.
He added direct messages between people could sometimes lead to people potentially meeting up to settle a dispute. On the flip side, Long said text messaging and direct messages don’t convey tone, which could lead to misunderstandings.
“If it’s going toward an argument, you cannot continue that conversation over social media or text messaging because you lose the flavor with it. You lose the punctuation and the human interaction. You have to, at some point, stop and pick up the phone or meet face to face not to fight but to work it out.”
“A lot of people want to come and file harassment charges on someone, whether it be on the phone or on the internet, but they’re still interacting. It’s hard to say there’s harassment when there’s interaction,” Long said. “There is a magical word called block. You block them, you don’t interact with them and you carry on.”
Be careful what you do online
As easy as it is to accept a friend request from someone you’ve never met, even if you have mutual friends, you never know what to expect afterwards.
Wayne Wilbanks of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office referenced a recent case of an individual who sent a friend request on social media to a female he didn’t know. After she accepted it, he started sending inappropriate photos.
“She asked him to stop, which he doubled up on the number of pictures he was sending,” he said.
Although the case involved two adults, Knight said grand juries take cases even more seriously when they involve an adult interacting with a juvenile.
“The Mississippi age of consent is 16. For anyone 14 and under, there is no consent. If they say it doesn’t matter, they’re at that age where they can’t consent. A lot of it is folks going crazy and sending pictures of body parts,” Knight said.
Wilbanks said despite people’s thoughts that Snapchat pictures can’t be recovered, they actually can be.
Sometimes what students post online could lead to hostility ahead of events.
“One of our school resource officers said they hype it all up on Facebook and come together at school at a football game or school event, and that’s when they actually come in contact,” Crook said.
Even ahead of some football games, social media can add to tensions with rivalries.
“You take the Aberdeen/Amory rivalry. Somebody from one school will say something about somebody from another school and the next thing you know, they’re saying somebody’s bringing a gun or players are getting overhyped on the field. I think social media creates more headaches and problems,” Wilbanks said.
He cited an example of such a problem through Facebook groups letting people know about roadblock locations.
“If we set up a checkpoint, and they say, ‘There’s a roadblock on Smithville Road.’ – if somebody has been to the club and looks at their phone, they’ll say, ‘Well, I’m not going down Smithville Road,’ and they’ll go around and hit someone else. They’re not thinking about they’re tipping off somebody that may end up killing somebody in your family,” Wilbanks said.
Adding more to the frustration, even law enforcement agencies can be targeted on social media.
“It’s frustrating to any department of getting accused of something that’s somebody’s imagination or bad information, and that’s something that people run with,” Crook said. “There’s no way you can defend yourself or worry about it; you’ve got to keep going.”