By this point in the evolution of social media, we’ve probably all been warned to be cautious with the type of information we post and our privacy settings, especially in light of potential employers using Facebook to check on applicants.  However, two British teenagers, Leigh Van Bryan and Emily Bunting, have learned this lesson the hard way, to say the least.  After joking on Twitter about their upcoming trip to the United States, Van Bryan and Bunting were barred from the United States and sent back to London.  So what were these threatening tweets that resulted in them being held by armed guards, questioned for five hours, and put in cells for 12 hours overnight?  Two tweets alerted Homeland Security.

One was tweeted on January 16th and stated, “free this week for a quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?”  The pair attempted to explain that “destroy” was slang for partying, but the border patrol agents were unconvinced and held them on suspicion of planning to “commit crimes.”  The other tweet, dated January 3rd, quoted US comedy Family Guy and stated, “3 weeks today, we’re totally in LA pissing people off on Hollywood Blvd and diggin’ Marilyn Monroe up!”  Because of this tweet, agents searched the pair looking for shovels, as they suspected that Bunting was going to act as the lookout while Van Bryan raided Monroe’s tomb.

Van Bryan told the Sun, “It’s almost funny now but at the time it was really scary.  The Homeland Security agents were treating me like some kind of terrorist.  I kept saying they had got the wrong meaning from my tweet but they just told me, ‘you’ve really f***ed up with that tweet, boy.’”  Van Bryan and Bunting were forced to share cells with Mexican drug dealers before being sent back to London and were told that they must apply for visas from the US Embassy in London before flying to the US again.  Needless to say, Van Bryan has now protected his tweets.

While we should be cautious with our posts and privacy settings, this incident is quite troubling, implicating both the First and Fourth Amendment.  We obviously expect high security and to be protected, but how much is too much?  Maybe other “threats” deserve more attention than such tweets, and the resources for the investigation could have been better spent elsewhere.  Employers refusing to hire based on posts is reasonable, but Homeland Security agents refusing to allow you to enter a country is somewhat extreme, especially considering the nature of these tweets.  Now more than ever, watch what you tweet.

Marina Visan

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3 Responses to Watch What You Tweet

  1. Kevin Lumpkin says:

    Interesting side effect of the increased accessibility the public now has to a lot of people’s every waking thought. I’m sure if you were to go and eavesdrop on the private conversations of 1,000 people for a day, you’d hear plenty of innocuous chatter one could easily mistake for a threat. But when our innocuous chatter is increasingly available for public consumption through social media, it dramatically increases the risk that someone WILL read it, take it out of context, and cause a whole world of trouble.

  2. Marina Visan says:

    Exactly. I would hope that after a five hour interrogation, it would be clear to Homeland Security that the pair was not a threat.

  3. Megan says:

    Wow– that must have been scary for those two teenagers. While those tweets probably should have been thought through, that seems like a very extreme reaction by Homeland Security.