In the Digital Age, a social media mistake can haunt you for a long time. Just ask Jabari Dean, who, in 2015, targeted a mass-shooting threat at the University of Chicago in the comment section of a popular website. The then-21-year-old quickly realized he had made a big mistake and deleted his post, but it was too late. In the moments his post was visible to the world, someone took a screenshot and passed it on to police. Before long, the FBI was knocking at Dean’s door.
In the meantime, the University took the threat seriously, canceling classes and other activities while law enforcement tried to sort it all out. At this point, two years removed from the incident and after a thorough investigation, no one thinks Dean seriously intended to follow through with his threat. He had no weapons at his home and no history of violence of any sort. Unfortunately for Dean, he was still arrested on a federal charge of transmitting a threat via interstate commerce.
In recent days, Dean has tried to make amends for his indiscretion by working with FBI to create a 30-second public service announcement reminding people that what they see as a meaningless threat or prank to social media can have longstanding ramifications. Dean sat next to special-agent-in-charge Michael Anderson at a press conference and reflected on the enormity of his error in judgment.
“It’s not going away. Think before you post,” Dean says.
Dean’s threat was posted in the aftermath of an incident in which a black Chicago teen, Laquan McDonald, was shot 16 times by a white police officer. Outraged, Dean took to the internet to post a specific threat that included use of an M-4 carbine and two Desert Eagles. He claimed he would execute 16 white male staff or students and all the white police officers he could take with him.
Even though Dean was able to strike an agreement with prosecutors to avoid a conviction, the impact on his life has been calamitous, according to him. He’s been expelled from school, lost most of his friends, and is not especially popular with many family members right now. Additionally, the federal charge still shows up when a background check is run.
Anderson commented that, once Dean’s threat was judged to not be serious, the FBI began trying to think of ways to use publicity of the situation to educate others before they made the same mistake. Dean saw it as a way to make amends of a sort, though he doesn’t expect complete forgiveness from anyone any time soon.