It’s hard to engender much sympathy for someone who fantasized about committing the worst kinds of murders, but the question is critical in the age of the Internet.
Between Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, so much personal information is finding its way online some reports claim that now even Facebook Likes can be used to map your personality. Indeed, your personal information is everywhere.
iTunes tracks the music you download. Can it be used to predict behavior? Amazon.com tracks the books you buy, or movies you stream. Could watching one too many “Saw” flicks lead to an investigation and possible prosecution for merely “thinking” about emulating the “Jigsaw Killer.”
The Internet has also opened up a world of porn and chat rooms that range from soft-core romance to hard-core fetishes like the ones Valle visited. He got his rocks off talking about committing torturous murders and eating his victims. The emphasis is on talk. He never actually harmed anyone.
The fact is, millions of people fantasize about all kinds of things. Millions more act out their fantasies on the Internet without ever planning to act on them in real life. Still, every so often, someone does. And, that’s enough to keep the hysteria on low boil and possibly lead to cases like Valle’s.
Of course Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman argued that enough circumstantial evidence existed to convince prosecutors that Valle was about to step over the line from fantasy to reality. His lawyers did their best to argue the opposite.
Defense attorney Julia Gatto likened the case to the famous 1938 Orsen Welles radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” Listeners panicked because they thought the broadcast was real.
A better analogy might have been Steven Spielberg’s 2002 noir science fiction film “Minority Report.” Set in 2054, it’s about a special “pre-crime” unit that arrests people based on the fact that they may be thinking about committing a crime.
The film’s central premise questions whether people have “free will” or whether personal behavior is shaped by pre-determined variables that can be deciphered from thoughts. That’s not too far off from judging people by their Facebook Likes.
In the end, Valle may actually have been planning to commit murders and we can be thankful his plot was nipped in the bud. But if he was merely fantasizing about it on the Internet, then society has just crossed a dangerous divide. This case cries out for an appeal.