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Was Yee's Post Just a “Joke” or a Terrorist Threat? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 20 September 2012 04:57

In the cyber world of chat rooms and blogs, "jokes" can lead to your arrest. Words are taken very seriously, particularly in today's world made very edgy by terrorism.

The arrest this week of a Santa Clarita man for allegedly posting threatening remarks in an ESPN chat room is another sobering reminder of that fact.

Mary C. Schaffer, associated professor and New Media Option head for the Department of Cinema and Television Arts at Cal State Northridge, said the arrest was more proof of how posts and remarks on public forums, no matter their intent, can cause strong reactions.

"We all need to select our words carefully, " Schaffer said. "And even when someone may think they are saying something in jest, it is taken very seriously when it is in a public forum.

"It is important to remember that even if we were not under the threat of terrorism, what we do and what we say is extremely important. People are very sensitive to what is happening in their everyday life. We need to be sensitive to other people, period."

Eric Yee, 21, a former Yale student, is in the Santa Clarita Valley jail in lieu of $1 million bail on suspicion of making a terrorist threat, according to deputies at the Sheriff's Department Santa Clarita Station. Law enforcement officials came after Yee after a post he allegedly wrote on an ESPN website he was "watching kids and didn't mind murdering them."

The arrest complaint against Yee – who was arraigned on Wednesday, Sept. 19 -- added a new charge of felony possession of an illegal weapon, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. The new charge included Yee's father, 64-year-old Roger Manfoo Yee, who is charged with illegal possession of an H&K M-94 assault weapon.

But the elder Yee has not yet been arrested and was not in court.

The posts were supposedly in response to an ESPN story law week about some $279 Nike shoes named for NBA start LeBron James, with other posts suggesting children could be at risk, even killed, for the shoes because of their price.

When the alleged post by Yee was filed, officials from ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn., notified local police, who linked the post to the man's home in Santa Clarita. Yee, who had dropped out of Yale, was living with his parents. Their home overlooks Santa Clarita Elementary School and Arroyo Seco Junior High School.

"The Internet service providers at one of the ESPN sites were very good and acted diligently in contacting police," Sgt. Darren Harris of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station told City News Service.

Lt. Steven Low added, "The blogger mentioned that it would be like the Aurora, Colo., shooting" where 12 people were killed this summer in a movie theatre showing the latest "Batman" film.

In addition to the arrest of Yee on Monday, Sept. 17, investigators also found several guns in the home.

But it doesn't have to be a life-or death situation. Even "innocent" events like a party can become embarrassing when they go viral on the web.

Schaffer recalled another situation involving one of her students, where an unexpected posting of photos created unintended havoc on a Facebook page.

"Last spring a student told me he was going to Las Vegas for the weekend for bachelor party," Schaffer said. "On his Facebook pager on Sunday there were all these pictures that were not appropriate. On Monday I said you should remove them. He said 'what are you talking about?' He didn't put the photos up; one of the people at the party did, and tagged him. He was mortified by this. We spent the entire class looking at Facebook pages and changing the settings.

"If you are going to have social media, people really need to check the settings to make sure they are private, and not open for everybody to see.

And they need to be checked monthly because the sites change them, and they have no obligation to notify you."

The situation with Yee, obviously, is much more serious. At the arraignment Yee's attorney, David Wallin, said Yee was simply trying to give his social and political commentary on shoes that cost $270 and was paraphrasing from the movie "American Psycho."

"His entire intent was to talk about his views on these shoes and what they represented," Wallin said. "I could say this is felony stupid but he's not guilty of making criminal threats."

That is now for the courts to decide. But as Schaffer pointed out, the public can and should make prudent decisions about how to disseminate one's thoughts and ideas on the Internet.

Everybody is so nervous; the slightest indication of something will set of a firestorm event," the professor said.

"Once you hit the 'send' button it is very difficult to delete. Even if you can delete the item, the web site still has it on their server.

"People will think it's gone but it can be delivered to authorities for evidence."

City News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this story.


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Last Updated on Monday, 24 September 2012 01:31