Facebook Threats: Supreme Court will weigh when threatening someone over social media becomes a crime
The Elonis case focuses on a man who wrote about killing his ex-wife on Facebook. When an FBI agent followed up on the threats, he wrote about killing her too.
The Facebook threats earned him just under four years in prison.
Now he challenges his posts were free speech, that he never meant them. The Supreme Court has followed the case and now agreed to hear it.
But they aren’t the only ones paying attention.
Huntsville Attorney Jake Watson tells us, “I’ve been following it for a year or so.”
He’s tracking the story about social media posts, because it deals with a whole new kind of law, “We’re in a new age where free speech is something different through the internet.”
We see these free speech principles challenged in our courts too. Watson says he’s defended similar cases focusing on threats, though the threats he handles deal with politicians more often than not, “It’s usually a public official where we’ve seen it here in the northern district of Alabama.”
It turns out, just by posting the threat on online, you dramatically increase the seriousness.
Watson notes, “This is interesting also, because it’s a federal case. Typically these are state crimes, if it’s just a threat made in person, which is typically a misdemeanor.”
Taking the threat to cyber space could be difference between probation and years in prison.
Wait for what the high court does, but regardless, Watson warns, “No matter how the court rules, people can get in serious trouble for what they post on Facebook.”