Online threats are free speech says supreme court

It’s OK To Threaten People Online, Says Supreme Court, Just Do It With Style

Ranting on Facebook and social media, even making threats, is OK and part of free speech, according to a Supreme Court ruling Monday.

The court ruled 8-1 to overturn the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who posted lyric from rapper Eminem to Facebook as a way to intimidate his wife, the FBI and threaten school shootings, according to the USA Today.

The court said threats had to be backed up by an intent to carry them out in order to be criminal.

The case is a defeat for groups fighting against domestic violence who hoped the court would ban online hate speech against women.

It’s also a victory for free speech advocates, which should come as no surprise as the court has a history of defending free speech even in the extreme case of allowing protests at military funerals.

Monday’s judgment is a narrow decision, however, based on the legalities surrounding the Anthony Elonis case and not meant to set down legal precedent and dissenting Justice Samuel Alito wasn’t happy with it, according to Fortune.

“The Court’s disposition of this case is certain to cause confusion and serious problems. Attorneys and judges need to know which mental state is required for conviction ….. This case squarely presents that issue, but the Court provides only a partial answer. This will have regrettable consequences.”

Elonis served 44 months in jail after being found guilty of using the Internet to post Eminem lyrics that threatened his wife and others. She left him in 2010 and took their three children with her after he lost his job at a Pennsylvania amusement park.

Fold up your [protection-from-abuse order] and put it in your pocket
Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?
Try to enforce an Order that was improperly granted in the first place
Me thinks the Judge needs an education on true threat jurisprudence
And prison time’ll add zeros to my settlement…
And if worse comes to worse
I’ve got enough explosives
to take care of the State Police and the Sheriff ‘s Department.

The court said lyrics like these are merely free speech and not intended as an actual threat, according to NPR.

The Elonis case could be used to overturn others like it especially one earlier this year in April where a Virginia woman was arrested for harassment after posting pictures of herself with a gun on her Facebook account.

She says she meant it as a joke and now with the Elonis ruling her claims might be taken more seriously.

What do you think? Should online threats be protected by freedom of speech?

[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]

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