Well, Christmas has come early this year. We have an actual, fake, death
I’m going to throw a TL;DR in the front of this. Usually, I’ll just type something
snarky in these, like, “go back and actually read it,” but in this case: TL;DR: don’t make death threats on Tumblr. Or any social media, for that matter. Don’t make them in general, because it is
illegal. But, the anonymity on social media is illusory. Just because I can’t
see who wrote it, does not mean you’re magically invisible to the world. I say
this as someone who has administered forums before; staff can see a lot of data
you, as a user, don’t have access to. Using these venues for this kind of content is phenomenally
If you’re wondering why I’m not taking this seriously, there’s a few
reasons. One: I know who wrote it, and yes, all five of those posts are from
the same person. Two: No one cares about superheroes. Three: It’s less
intimidating than the very bouncy dog that lives above us, because unlike the
author, that dog both knows where we live, and could (theoretically) cause us
harm. Finally: If someone were to decide to do horrific and unspeakable things
to us, the original messages would give the police an immediate place to start
So, let’s unpack how to actually make a death threat, if you ever need to
create one for your writing. Because, if you’re going to do something, let’s do
Hilariously, the first cue that this is all from the same person is that
their writing is terrible. I mean their actual writing, but also this. The
thing about writing is, it’s actually substantially harder to identify the
author when it’s in the median. Proper punctuation, grammar, and capitalization
go a long way towards masking who you are. Word choice will betray you, and
even within the US there are substantial dialect changes, depending on where you
are in the country, which can give away who (and where) you are.
For example: if the sentence, “The Hamburger’s all,” makes sense to you without further
context, you’re probably in Pennsylvania, or somewhere thereabouts. Or, if you refer to an ATM as a Cash Station, there’s a pretty good chance you’re somewhere in the Chicago sprawl. Though, if they weren’t trying to write like someone
who was just paroled from 4chan, it might be more apparent. Seriously, there’s thousands of these little tells in regional dialects, and they’re worth learning about, if only for your writing.
As it stands, it does tell me the second post (reading from the bottom up,
because Tumblr’s like that), was typed in on their mobile phone. Autocorrect
will “fickle sick” you every time. So they were bouncing around between
multiple devices, while typing. At that point, I do have to give her a little
credit, because that’s a lot of effort to go through while still hiding behind
an anonymous label.
If I was an asshole, I’d probably say something about how the anon icon is a
weak attempt to look cooler than they actually are, with those dated Ray Bans,
so I will. I mean, this is a death threat, so a little fun is in order.
At this point, I should probably also rabbit track and remind her that “your”
is the possessive. “You’re,” is the contraction of, “you are.” As a writer, it’s
one of those little annoyances you need to keep in mind at all times,
especially if you want to be a professional some day. To be fair, this could be
autocorrect striking again. Though, I can’t remember “talking about kill
yourself,” so maybe more punctuation was in order. Also, turns out, due to the
amount of coffee I consume, I’m immortal. So, there’s that.
The second thing is, no one cares about superheroes, especially not the
author of the death threat. Now, before you try to correct me, I don’t mean
individual characters. We all have our affectionate loyalty to various
characters. But, no one cares about them as an aggregate. It’s easy to find
someone who will get pissed off because you badmouthed Batman, or Spiderman. It’s
a lot harder to find someone who’s really pissed because you made a crack at
Nightman, or Raver.
Everyone’s got a few superheroes they despise. Sometimes it’s going to be big
controversial picks, like Wolverine, or Superman. Sometimes it’ll be safer
picks like third tier X-Men. Sometimes it will be the truly bizarre, like
Dogwelder. Sometimes it’ll be characters you’re really not supposed to like,
such as Elite, The Holy, and Mr. Payback. Everyone’s got a few superheroes where
you step back and go, “nope, not that one.”
So when I say, “no one cares about superheroes,” what I mean is, the death
threat lacks specificity. This is actually a problem for a lot of writers. Always
be specific when you’re writing. If you’re talking about a dog, talk about the
dog, not the idea of a dog, out there somewhere, but this one. If you’re talking about a death threat, make it an actual goddamn threat.
It helps ground the reader into the world you’re creating. Even when that world
is just an idle threat to, “do stuff,” to someone you’ve never met.
A real death threat is going to be specific. It’s not, “how dare you impugn
the concept of the superhero,” it’s, “you said untoward things about this
character I am emotionally invested in to a profoundly unsound degree, prepare
to die.” If it was the former, then you’d need to line Alan Moore, Garth Ennis,
Warren Ellis, Frank Herbert (necromancy may be necessary for this), and (possibly)
Grant Morrison up against the wall ahead of us.
We occasionally get questions about how to threaten and intimidate
characters, so let’s bring that topic up again. For a threat to work, it needs
to be credible. You need to articulate actions your intended victim believes
you’re capable of. I’d say, “actions you can actually do,” but there’s a little
bit of wiggle room here. The threat also needs to create an image in the victim’s
mind. This is, really, like any writing; if you’re not conveying an idea coherently,
you need to start over and redraft it. To be fair, this is a problem the author
struggles with, so I’m inclined to cut her some slack.
She wishes she could find us, because… you know our real names aren’t
hidden, right? I mean, we post under pseudonyms here, but our actual names have
been published on the site, and on our Patreon page. And, our mailing address
is available online, as a result. Again, the purpose is to instigate fear, but,
because the author didn’t do any research, it really misses the mark.
Doesn’t matter if it’s a novel or a death threat, you need to do your
research. Learn what you can on the subject. You need to keep your audience
engaged with the material. When it becomes blindingly apparent that you haven’t
done the research, and the facts don’t mesh with reality, the suspension of disbelief
breaks. Your audience has disconnected from the piece, and the best you can
hope for is that they sit back and riff the hell out of what follows.
The second part, actually fails research. I’ve talked about taking
people’s eyes out with your thumbs, and been in a situation where I seriously
considered doing that for about half a second. We talk about horrific,
disfiguring, injuries on a weekly basis. You only need to dig up the Starke Is
Not a Real Doctor and The Only Unfair Fight tags, if you want to see
discussions on this kind of material. So backing out and saying, “the most
painful way possible,” is making threats you can’t deliver on, and failing to
do the research.
The fact that I’m sitting here, trying to remember if I’ve done a
post on pouring molten metal into wounds, should speak volumes about where
someone would need to go to actually deliver on the, “most painful,” phrase.
Now, if you’re coming to something like this, and setting concrete goals,
like, “I’m going to take your eyes out with a rusty grapefruit spoon, hope you’ve
had your tetanus shots,” that’s a much more realistic goal, and a more credible
threat. (Also, tetanus shots are their own flavor of torture, so that’s a perk.)
It’s something you can actually do. Threats can be vague, like, “no, Mr. Bond, I
have other plans for you.” But, a
threat needs to be coherent, articulatable, and plausible.
I mean, sticking someone in an industrial microwave is a pretty painful way
to die, but it requires that, you know, you have access to an industrial
Finally, if you read the TL;DR at the beginning, this should be familiar
information, but don’t make death threats, especially not on social media. It’s
profoundly stupid. Criminals, it should be noted, aren’t usually known for
their intellectual prowess, but this is dumb. Florida Man dumb.
Social media isn’t like the US Postal system, or calling from a payphone. It
is, absolutely traceable. There’s a very simple reason for this, if you could
get true anonymity from the platform, it would rapidly find itself under
scrutiny by law enforcement agencies like the DEA. You may wonder why, but the
answer should be self evident. There are many people out there who make their
living breaking the law. Just like you or me, the internet is a major boon for
them. A truly secure and untraceable communications network buried on an easily
accessible, and overtly legitimate site? Yeah, that would be way too good to
Now, the anon tag will conceal who sent the message from the recipient. At
least it would, if the author’s writing style wasn’t instantly recognizable.
That’s the point. It will not, however, shield your identity from law
At this point, it’s probably worth it to bring up a very brief discussion on
The First Amendment. If you’re in the US, you’re probably vaguely aware of
this. This is usually abbreviated as “Freedom of Speech,” and that’s accurate
so far as it goes. But, what it really means is freedom from government retaliation
over speech. It does not protect you from private response. To borrow a phrase,
invoking the First Amendment is simply stating that whatever you said was not
so incredibly stupid as to actually be illegal. It’s not a shield from criticism.
So, why am I bringing this up? Because it is also not absolute. There are
exempted types of speech which do not enjoy First Amendment protections. You
can dig the full list up online, if you really want, but one of the excluded
groups is credible threats. If, the author had said, “I will find you, torture,
and kill you,” well… actually, first I’d complement them finally finding
their comma, but that could be construed as an actual threat. As a result, they
could actually face criminal charges over it.
Historically, law enforcement has been pretty lax on these kinds of threats.
However, it’s entirely possible that could change at any moment. Especially
with increased attention on cyberstalking, online harassment, and internet
bullying making the evening news. So, when I say, “don’t do this, it is
illegal,” part of the reason is, you don’t want to be the poster child for a
crackdown on internet threats.
If you’ve been the subject to this kind of behavior in the past, here’s the
good news. You’re actually safer from your anonymous harassers than if they
simply acted without warning. The reasoning is above. They said what they would
do, before following through, and (figuratively) signed their name to it ahead
of time. Any investigation of a physical attack against you will lead back to
You can also avail yourself of the cyberbullying help
organizations that have been getting press in recent years. You should also
probably read this list.
(And, yes, I am breaking the first couple rules at the bottom.) Granted, that
list assumes the bullying is happening in a school environment, but things like
site terms of service do still apply, after you’ve escaped into the real world.
If you’re someone who sees a post like those pop up in your inbox, report them.
Click the ellipsis next to the pencil icon and select “Report.”
Yes, people can
and do use sockpuppet accounts, so blocking won’t always work. But, always
remember, anonymous strangers on the internet only have the power you give
them. Someone posts hateful, hurtful shit, directed at you personally; don’t
try to understand, don’t make sense of it, just feed it to a grue, and find
people that are supportive. They’re out there. Alternately: “If you’re getting
death threats, you must be doing something right.”
Finally, if you ever want to be a professional writer, don’t stoop to this
shit, seriously. This is the kind of thing that can come back, without warning,
when someone with an axe to grind and access to old information wanders in and
turns it into a huge mess.