Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

Summary: Two teenagers were refused entry to the United States after a series of tweets were taken somewhat out of context. Another reminder to think before you tweet.

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Amid the funny wigs and the undue pomp in the traditional British courtroom, it seems that our distant American cousins fail to share our often-poor taste in humour.

When one teenager tweeted his friend claiming that he was going to "destroy America", it appears that U.S. authorities took the public message somewhat too seriously.

At least the other teenager did not respond by joking about "diggin' Marilyn Monroe up". Oh, wait.

To their surprise, however, when they arrived at L.A. International, they were not only detained and questioned at length by U.S. authorities, but were swiftly -- after a night in the cells, naturally -- plonked back on a plane back to England, and barred from entering the United States again.

One U.S. Homeland Security agent allegedly told the hapless teenager: "You’ve really f***ed up with that tweet, boy." At least on this side of the pond, one can bet that Her Majesty's finest would not be so rude.

The famous quote goes: "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." In this case, it could not be closer to the truth.

Just as something classified as "sick" can describe both a good, and a rather vomitous situation in English slang, so can the word "destroy". And "crumpet", come to think of it.

The two teenagers will not be allowed to return to the United States without prior authorisation from the U.S. Embassy in London.

It's not the first time a Twitter user has fallen foul of the law, however. In 2010, Paul Chambers fell foul of Section 127 of the UK's Communications Act 2003, which describes how one tweet was of "indecent, obscene, or menacing character". He only threatened to blow up an airport in a fit of anger.

But little did the authorities realise was the scale of the reaction by the wider Twitterverse, including some high-profile users. In amidst a hashtag revolution, over 5,000 users had taken to make joke-'threats' of their own.

When reporters asked whether the local police force would prosecute the lot of them, they reportedly replied with a rather succinct: "No."

It just goes to show that even seemingly innocent descriptors can be taken wholly out of context. Anyone who has been through the U.S. border will know it is wise not to make any smart cracks, witty remarks, or frankly show any emotion for that matter.

It nevertheless serves as a reminder to think very carefully before you tweet.

Image source: Spencer E. Holtaway/Flickr.

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Topics: Censorship, United Kingdom

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48 comments
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  • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

    In a country where we value the Freedom of Speech, we certainly have nothing but contempt for it when other people do. If you are a fellow human being on Earth, you are only entitled to speak as you wish if you are also called "American" by birthright; forget Creator-imbued natural rights.

    I don't think risk assessment was tied very well to the language being used. If they had the means, the equipment, and the desire to destroy America, then they are a threat. If they simply stated something with harmless words in a joking manner, I think the reactions went way overboard.
    Vapur9
    • "Destroy America" is a touch overboard

      @Vapur9
      The U.S. Secret Service might be understandably concerned about "Destroy Obama" tweets as well.
      John L. Ries
    • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

      @Vapur9
      This has nothing to do with Freedom of Speech. If you actually read what that even means in the US, you'll soon learn it does NOT mean you are free to say anything you want at any time... like many people assume it means.
      doh123
    • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

      @Vapur9 - Admission to a foreign country is entirely at the discretion of the authorities. People have been turned away before for "unfavorable public utterances" much less utterances that could be deemed a threat.

      What I find interesting is how they were able to trace the tweet to a person's name and passport number. That reveals a level of social network dredging and data integration that many people didn't suspect before.
      terry flores
    • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

      @Vapur9
      I like mentos and pop you don't think that could be open to misinterpritation at the TSA disposal garbage can.
      sean3366
    • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

      @Vapur9
      It's not just foreigners who have to guard their words in places of high security, or when expecting to enter places of high security, in the United States. Airport security personnel have been on guard for careless words and actions for decades now, ever since there were sky-jackings in the late 60s. I remember being pulled aside and interrogated in 1980 at Hartford airport for getting mouthy with security over their extreme interest in my umbrella. You can bet that I let them examine my umbrella all they wanted when I went through security again the very next week.

      The irony of this is that most big-mouths are usually innocent of evil intent, while real security risks slide under the radar.
      sissy sue
      • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

        @sissy sue
        It is not only what you say, but rather what they THINK you said. Back in the early 80's I went through a security screening in Vermont. I was talking to a colleague with me and mentioned guM, as in chewing gum. The hard of hearing person at the checkpoint thought I said guN, as in bang-bang, and started to reprimand me. I clarified to the guard what I actually said, but let him go on his rant anyway.
        tbuccelli
    • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

      Sick can be a positive or negative in "British" slang but destroy? I've never ever seen that used in a positive manner.
      bradavon
  • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

    Security theater is a term that describes security countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually improve security. That's what all of this is. They can't even tell the difference between this and a real threat. No..I don't feel any safer.
    mgdvt
    • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

      @mgdvt@... The issue here is that the security people (TSA) are not given a lot of time to evaluate a person. They don't hire the brightest so the way it works is that the agents are given a set of rules and there is no flexibility in those rules. If someone says "I'm going to blow up the plane" they are told they must take it seriously. This even predates the TSA. One thing you could not do, even at a ticket counter was mention the word "bomb." Jesting was never allowed. Maybe they CAN tell the difference but they are not allowed and, if tweeting is private conversation, that makes a tweet like that even more dangerous. Sarcasm doesn't work online. Even before WWW it never did.
      hforman@...
      • Your tax dollars at work

        @hforman@...
        [i]They don't hire the brightest so the way it works is that the agents are given a set of rules and there is no flexibility in those rules. [/i]

        Right, only now it's gotten to the point where it isn't uncommon to see some little ol' gray haired lady being given the wand, or even frisked. That includes ones in wheelchairs! I mean, where will it end for Christ's sake.
        klumper
      • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

        @hforman@...
        It was Homeland Security who denied the teenagers entry, not the TSA. Border control personnel can deny any foreigner entry if they perceive them as a threat.
        sissy sue
  • I might get refused enty to the US for posting this, but then ... who cares

    Big fuss about two teenagers seeking some fun in the U.S.
    But were have they been when the planes got crashed into the towers?
    U.S. and their politics of Fear. Our luck it works only on dumb people, but there seem enough over the big pond.
    tzihlmann@...
  • Lack of information

    I can't tell if this is an over reaction by DHS because there isn't enough contextual information. Generally, you don't yell "fire" in a movie house or make any jokes about high jacking, bombs, ect when you're in an airport. The context of the twitter message is not given and there is no alternate explaination of what the kid meant by "destroy". The only thing given is that the DHS agent was crude and it is not smart to tweet without thinking.
    sboverie
    • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

      @sboverie@...

      Absolutely typical that everyone is ranting and raving and blaming the authorities. What is all the fuss? I fail to see the problem. The kid made a stupid unfortunate comment online, they got flagged, they got taught a lesson and they got sent home. End of story. If it was my kid in the same situation I would tell them to wise up in future.

      It would be irresponsible for authorities to try 'reading into' everything. Maybe in future it will teach people to watch what they say IN PUBLIC - because although so many people are seemingly dumb enough to post anything and everything related to their entire life up there, they must realise it is in the PUBLIC domain - practically FOREVER.
      12312332123
      • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

        @Traxxion I'm from Puerto Rico (english isn't my main language), and even to me it's pretty clear "destroy" means to have a good time. Even so, I can understand detaining and questioning them, but was it really necessary to be an @$$ while doing so? <br>Furthermore, I'm pretty sure the DHS performed a pretty thorough investigation on both of them. Obviously, they found nothing (since they weren't prosecuted), so why ban them from the US?
        Ndiaz.fuentes
      • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

        @Ndiaz.fuentes
        Fair enough, but its still a pretty silly thing to say. The DHS do not have a sense of humour we are aware of do they? and its not like they were beaten up or something, they were just sent home. Obviously they were being made an example of, but you know - that's life. If they hadn't made the comment, they wouldn't have been targetted and "zero risk" (send them home) trumps "virtually no risk" every time.....
        12312332123
      • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

        @Traxxion: hear hear! At last, some sense in these forums! :)
        gerbilio
  • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

    Some kind of worry to comment here. But "My fellows FBI, ICE, ... don't take this comment personal and forget I'm Puertorican"

    My comment is: Is some kind of funny. I always ask my self what will happen when in a airpot terminal I scream "BOMBA.... hay que rica es le sube el ritmo por ..." BOMBA in English translate BOMB. But I'm Puertorrican" (sorry some will block me in GP+). But stay for a while... Bomba here in PR and for puertoricans is a verse for country music (local) that is some kind of funny Check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bomba . Any comments!!
    janico
    • RE: Think before you tweet: Why two teenagers were refused entry to the U.S.

      @janico Before 9/11, it you walked up to a ticket counter and they heard you use just the word "bomb", you got arrested. DHS and the TSA are nothing new in this regard. Especially if someone could have mistaken you for a Cuban as there were quite a few hijaccking of aircraft to Cuba.
      hforman@...