Yesterday there was an interesting drama that took place on Twitter. I think it raises an interesting question about what responsibility we have to our fellow citizens, both in real life and on the web.
A mother was having a hard time getting her daughter to go to sleep. In between her attempts to get her daughter into bed, she was posting to Twitter. As is common there, she was posting about the situation she was dealing with at the moment. Rather exasperated, she posted (and I'm paraphrasing since I didn't see the original post) "I'm tempted to smother her." She meant it as a joke, an indication of her waining patience with her daughter.
Not much later, police showed up at her door and demanded to see her daughter to ensure she was OK. Evidently someone who knew this mom well enough to know where she lived saw that Twitter post and called the police, thinking maybe this was a critical situation. After explaining the situation and waking her daughter so the police could be sure she was fine, the police left and took no further action.
The mother then posted an angry rant about how some people have no sense of humor or have never been mothers themselves, since if they had they'd understand how she meant her post. She was livid at the person who called the police, and vowed to never again mention her private life or family online.
The first few comments were sympathetic and understanding. But before long the tide turned and the comments all sided with the person who called the police.
These people said that no one could be sure the mother had been joking and mentioned how terrible they'd feel if something had happened and they'd done nothing. They chastised the mother for showing poor judgment in posting such a comment even in jest.
The question is, who is right? Should people have known she was only expressing a sentiment expressed by mothers everywhere? Should people be able, in a textual environment like the internet, to tell when someone isn't serious? Do people like the person who called the police need to get a sense of humor? Or are we better off not taking these things lightly? Thinking about the boy who recently committed suicide online while people watched via webcam and chatted about it, no one calling the police; should we become more proactive when we see something that could be amiss? Are we obliged anytime we hear a gunshot in the neighborhood to notify the police? Are we our neighbor's keepers, or should we mind our own business and not get involved?