A 20 year old (former) psychology student from Georgia Southern University was sentenced to five years of probation, during which he is banned from using social media, after he pleaded guilty to making terroristic threats.

Caleb Jamaal Clemmons was arrested in February after posting a message to his Tumblr page that read, “hello. my name is irenigg and i plan on shooting up georgia southern. pass this around to see the affect it has. to see if i get arrested.”  Authorities had not found any weapons or evidence to suggest that Clemmons had plans to carry out an attack on the school.

Clemmons told authorities at the time that he posted the message as a joke to see how long it would take for him to be arrested.

A judge sentenced Clemmons Tuesday to five years of probation,which included a ban on social media and additional penalties.

From The Verge:

Superior Court Judge John Turner sentenced Clemmons to five years of probation. During that time he is banned from four counties, including the one in which his school is located, and he is not allowed to use social media. He must complete a mental health evaluation within 30 days of release. He must also complete a drug and alcohol evaluation and avoid contact with alcohol and illegal drugs during his probation.

He was additionally sentenced to six months in jail, which he has already served, and 150 to 180 days at a probation detention center, which was suspended. He will be released today.

Clemmons has already spent the last six months in prison since his arrest, as he was unable to pay the $20,000 bail while awaiting his court date.

As The Verge also pointed out, sensitivity to online threats has been heightened in the wake of recent events.

The charge, “making terroristic threats,” comes from Georgia state penal code Section 16-11-37. Similar charges have been leveled in recent months against young men in Massachusetts and Texas. Sensitivity to online threats, however absurd they seem, may be heightened due to recent violent events such as the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Indeed, Clemmons’ case has drawn some attention from critics who say the treatment has been too harsh.  Some have compared it to that of Justin Carter, the teen who was imprisoned for five months, unable to pay bail of $500,000, after joking on Facebook that he was going to “shoot up a kindergarten.” Carter’s comment was in response to comments posted by a fellow “League of Legends” video game player who called the teen crazy.  Carter responded with the sarcastic threat, which was followed by “LOL,” the abbreviation for “laughing out loud,” to represent that he was joking.

From CNN:

According to court documents, Justin wrote, “I’m f***ed in the head alright. I think I’ma (sic) shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them.”

Jack Carter said his son followed the claim with “LOL” and “J/K” — indicating that the comment wasn’t serious.

“Any clear reading and full reading of the context of that statement would make it obvious that this was just a sarcastic joke,” Chad Van Brunt, one of Carter’s attorneys, told CNN on Friday. “If we get to trial … it’s just going to be abundantly clear, if it’s not already.”

Carter has since been released from jail after an anonymous donor posted his bail.

Likewise, Carter’s case attracted national media attention and harsh criticism from first amendment advocates who believe that authorities may be taking some of these instances too far.  While such threats certainly warrant investigation, many feel that once it’s determined an individual presents no real threat, punitive measures should not include jail time.

But Clemmons’ case doesn’t appear that similar to Carter’s.

While it’s clear now, after the fact, that Clemmons was only joking, that wasn’t evident at the time.  Further, Clemmons stated in his message that he wanted to see how long it took police to respond.  Such an action takes crucial resources away from responding to other emergencies.

Whether or not Clemmons’ actions warranted the sentence he received is another argument altogether.  But the social media ban portion of his sentence will likely spark further discussion amongst legal analysts and first amendment advocates.

Admittedly, the issue of online threats is uneasy territory.  Determining what is a real threat versus what is joking or sarcasm is a challenge for authorities.  How they respond to such postings and the resulting penalties can also vary from state to state, and often the responses can seem arbitrary.  It’s an area that will no doubt remain the subject of ongoing debate for some time.

There’s only one way to avoid getting caught up in such a quandary – think twice before you post that comment on social media.