The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wants people to know that fake threats and hoaxes targeting public buildings and private citizens can lead to very real prison sentences.
Using the hashtag #ThinkBeforeYouPost as a way to spread the word, the FBI has started a campaign to educate people about the consequences of hoax threats. Such threats about bombs, hostage situations and other violent acts cost thousands in taxpayer dollars and divert law enforcement resources away from other matters. In addition, they sometimes cause emotional harm to victims and put law enforcement officers in danger.
In the past several months, federal law enforcement officers have had to investigate numerous fake threats -- most of which were issued via social media. It's important to understand that the government can often use sophisticated tracking methods to trace a text or post back to its source -- even when the person issuing the fake threat thinks they've been careful to remain anonymous. It isn't as easy to cover your tracks online as many people think.
In addition, the government is actively prosecuting the people they catch. Some of the offenders they have pursued include:
- A man from North Carolina who was given one year and two months in federal prison for a variety of fake threats over the internet
- A man from South Carolina who was given a one-year sentence for fake bomb threats sent by text
- A 19-year-old from Texas who called in a fake hostage situation as a prank on another person and received a three-year prison term
- Two teenagers from Kentucky who created a fake social media page in a third person's name to issue fake threats -- earning each of them close to a year in prison
All of those people got less prison time than they might have. A single false threat can lead to a five-year prison term.
Many young people think of online hoaxes, fake threats and false alarms as something that's "no big deal." That's why the FBI is urging parents to help their teens understand that spreading false alarms and fake threats is a federal crime that can lead to lifelong consequences.