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A married couple in Ohio got their own surprise when both the husband and wife were cited for misdemeanors by police after their gruesome, bad joke was taken too seriously by their Facebook friends. The pair thought it would be funny to stage a murder scene in their bathtub using ketchup, then post pictures of it online. The police were able to quickly catch up to them, and failed to see the humor.
What's worse is that rather than putting a disclaimer, or note, indicating that it was a garden variety joke, the husband was assuming responsibility, proudly. When law enforcement started receiving hysterical calls about the incident, officers arrived at the couple's home, discovering the not-so-clever ruse.
While normally the First Amendment protects creative expression, these sorts of expressions are akin to yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, which generally is not considered protected speech. Additionally, pranks, by their very design, tend to satisfy the elements of civil legal claims, such as intentional infliction of emotional distress.
While the ketchup couple were not arrested, they have been charged with a misdemeanor for inducing a panic, for which the punishment ranges in severity depending on the losses suffered by individuals and the public.
Local law enforcement departments have been enjoying the age of social media quite a bit, particularly when it makes their jobs easier. Increasingly, individuals have been publicly posting videos, photos and statements about criminal activity to social media sites. Some criminals have even been so brazen as to live stream the torture of kidnapping victims on sites like Facebook.
Social media sites have been making efforts to prevent the police from using their services to conduct surveillance. But, when people broadcast criminal actions publicly, or a social media friend re-shares something publicly, there's not much the social media companies can do to stop police from using it as evidence of a crime.
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