It was all "a mistake."
An American teen has learned the lesson of a lifetime after being identified by the Secret Service as the instigator of a nasty incident that provoked a heated national debate about free speech, race and technology -- all against the backdrop of a possible threat against the president of the United States. If it wasn't so serious a matter, one might have sympathy for the teen, who posted the poll on Facebook asking whether President Barack Obama should be assassinated. I think it's fair to assume that he, or she, is grounded.
Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan said Thursday that agents have interviewed the teen and his parents and determined the youth poses no threat to the President. The Secret Service would not disclose any other details about the minor. Donovan said the Secret Service investigation had determined the teen had "no intent" to make a direct threat on Obama.
"Case closed," Donovan said. "I guess you could characterize it as a mistake." The teen will not be charged with a crime.
The juvenile suspect used a third-party application developed by a California programmer to create the poll, which he posted on Facebook, asking: "Should Obama be killed?" The possible answers were "no," "maybe," yes," and "yes if he cuts my health care." Facebook quickly yanked the poll Monday -- and the Secret Service launched an investigation.
"We can't discount anything. We have to take this seriously," Donovan told DailyFinance on Tuesday.
As expected, it was only a matter of hours before authorities acquired the IP address of the user who posted the offensive poll, and tracked the person down. The teenager's parents cannot be amused.
"We commend the Secret Service on their quick and thorough action and have complete confidence in whatever conclusion they have reached as a result," Facebook said in a statement Thursday.
Some 730 people responded before Facebook users reported the poll to the company, which had already removed it by the time the Secret Service called Monday afternoon. Neither the company nor the third-party developer have released the results of the poll.
We may never learn much about the youth's motivations in creating the poll -- unless he decides to speak to a news organization, or is outed in some other way. But we have seen how easy it is for a wayward teenager to cause enough havoc on a social networking website to launch a Secret Service investigation.
In response to questions about how Facebook intends to prevent similar incidents in the future, the social networking company said it is working to improve its systems.
"Facebook is committed to enhancing our already robust reporting and review infrastructure, and reducing our response times in removing content that violates our policies," a Facebook spokesman told DailyFinance. "Further, when we find egregious violations, we'll kick people off for good and prevent them from committing further offenses."
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