Prolific social media users often share their thoughts in a "stream of consciousness" format, revealing anything and everything they may be thinking in a given moment. However, these "thoughts" are often not positive and sometimes attack others, especially former significant others. The abundance of these posts is gaining the attention of federal authorities and the Supreme Court is set to make a decision this year that will determine how these cases should be handled. The case before the Supreme Court is Elonis v. United States. Anthony Elonis was charged with violating the federal "true threats" statute (18 U.S.C. 875(c)), a federal felony, after posting many, many threatening comments on Facebook. Most of these threats were directed to his wife, while some were also directed to a co-worker, and another toward an FBI agent who confronted him after he posted on Facebook that he wanted to become famous by going on a school shooting spree.
The federal district court in Pennsylvania and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals both ruled against defendant Elonis. He appealed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine the issue of whether an objective test should be applied (as was applied by the lower courts) to decide if the defendant intended the comments to be true threats. The government argues that the objective test is proper as the defendant is guilty of violating the law if a reasonable person would view the comments as threatening. The defendant argues a subjective test should be used, such that he would not be guilty of violating the law unless the government can prove that defendant actually intended the comments to create fear in the minds of those he was directing the comments to. Elonis maintains that he was merely exercising his Free Speech rights under the Constitution and was just venting rather than threatening. The Supreme Court will decide his fate later this year.
For general purposes, making any type of comment on social media that could even slightly be perceived as threatening is a terrible idea. Instead of using these sites to purge heated emotions, keep it clean, lest you end up arrested for violating federal law.
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