Friday July 11, 2014 2:18 pm
Supreme Court to drop the hammer on Internet threats
Anyone who has spent any time online has probably gotten a death threat or two. Maybe you were playing Call of Duty and some 11-year-old questioned your sexuality before telling you he'd kill your family. Maybe you offended the legions of desperate Tumblr bloggers in some arcane way and you woke up to a swarm of messages on your dash saying they would hack you and your dog apart with rusty machetes. You probably did what any reasonable person did and rolled your eyes and went about your day.
Statements and threats on the internet aren't usually taken seriously. Both the giver and the receiver are usually anonymous and the threat is usually over the top enough that you laugh and think nothing of it.
Well, the highest court in the United States might be ready to have the final word.
The case is called Elonis v. United States, and it revolves around threats made on Facebook. In 2010, Anthony Elonis posted a rant on Facebook in the form of rap lyrics where he threatened his wife, local elementary schools and the police. His wife saw and did not roll her eyes and go about her day but instead reported him to police.
Lower courts applied the “reasonable person” standard; i.e. would a reasonable person feel threatened by the statements and upheld the arrests. The Supreme court has already made a statement for offline threats, with the criminal distinction being “statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.” In short, actual threats made with actual malice.
Elonis claims the statements he made were just venting and do no show intent to harm. This case will determines at which point online venting becomes a real threat. So while you might not take the crazy Tumblr user with an ax seriously, Law enforcement might just have to.