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U.S. Homeland Security detains Brits for Twitter joke: report

A reflection of the Department of Homeland Security logo is seen reflected in the glasses of a cyber-security analyst.

Mark J. Terrill/Mark J. Terrill/AP

Border police may lack a sense of humour – but at least they're social-media savvy.

Two British tourists say they were denied entry to the United States after boasting on Twitter that they were about to "destroy America" and "dig up Marilyn Monroe," the London Daily Mail reports.

Leigh Van Bryan, 26, and friend, Emily Bunting, 24, flew to Los Angeles International Airport, where they were allegedly stopped for questioning by armed guards.

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One can only imagine the exchange:

Border patrol: "Do you deny posting the following statement online: 'Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?'"

Mr. Van Bryan: "No, but the lads at home know that 'destroy' is another word for 'party.' It was a joke."

Border patrol: "How do you explain your earlier statement online, which reads as follows: '3 weeks today, we're totally in LA … people off on Hollywood Blvd and diggin' Marilyn Monroe up!'"

Mr. Van Bryan: "I take it you don't watch Family Guy?"

Talk about lost in translation (after all, the Marilyn joke was cribbed from an episode of an American, not British, comedy).

Ms. Bunting told the Daily Mail she "almost burst out laughing" when officials asked whether she was going to be her friend's lookout while he dug up the Hollywood legend.

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But the situation reportedly grew dire as the travel companions were handcuffed and put in lockdown with suspected drug smugglers for the night.

"It was really scary," said Mr. Van Bryan, a bar manager and Irish nationalist. "The Homeland Security agents were treating me like some kind of terrorist."

The suspected grave desecraters say they were told they must apply for visas from the U.S. Embassy in London before attempting to re-enter the United States.

Monitoring social-media networks for suspicious updates must keep the Department of Homeland Security awfully busy. But this is hardly the first time a person has been arrested for random acts of tweeting. (The most ridiculous is 27-year-old Paul Chambers's Twitter "joke" about "blowing the airport sky high!!")

Lest it need repeating, think before you Tweet (or Facebook or Tumblr).

Do you ever worry that your posts will be held against you? How do you keep your social networking above suspicion?

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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