On Monday, a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities was greeted by campus police when she arrived on campus. The reason: faculty members had felt threatened by her Facebook status updates.
Amanda Tatro, a student in the university's mortuary science program, had made a series of Facebook status updates over the weekend that made references to violence and her embalming lab class. Some of her professors were concerned by these updates and called the police. Tatro was escorted off campus Monday and barred from her classes for the first half of the week, finally being reinstated and allowed to make up missed work yesterday after police and the university's Office of Student Conduct deemed her posts non-threatening.
After being dumped by her boyfriend, Tatro posted to Facebook that she was "looking forward to Monday's embalming therapy" because "lots of aggression can be taken out" with a sharp embalming tool. She later added she wanted to "stab a certain someone in the throat" and followed that up with an oblique reference to the movie Kill Bill and "making friends with the crematory guy."
To many, this was just blowing off steam to her friends after receiving some bad news. But to professors being bombarded with last minute pleas and thinly veiled threats from stressed students during the finals week frenzy, Tatro's threats could easily refer to them, rather than an ex-boyfriend they knew nothing about. Given recent violent acts and threats on other college campuses, instructors chose to share their concerns with police.
While Tatro's situation was resolved relatively quickly and peacefully, others have faced serious consequences for threatening posts online. If you use Facebook or other social networking sites casually, be aware of who might be able to read what you write. Think about possible interpretations of what you say before you say it, especially if it could be in any way construed as a threat of violence against or a malicious attack on someone you know. If you put something on the Internet, always assume that it's public, and that your professors, peers, prospective employers, high school nemeses, and parents are able to stumble across it. Though public venting can be nice and can help you blow off steam when you're stressed, it can potentially lead to trouble and Internet drama that could last much longer than the original cause of your stress.