Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case centered on a man's threatening posts to Facebook. Anthony Elonis was convicted of violating a federal law that forbids making interstate threats after he posted several threatening and often graphic posts to his Facebook account about harming his wife, a class of kindergartners, and a female FBI agent.
After his wife left him in mid-2010, Elonis began posting numerous rants to Facebook. In one post, Elonis wrote, in part, "There's one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I'm not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts..." His estranged wife felt threatened and endangered by his threats on Facebook, especially when he continued to post after she obtained a protective order against him. Elonis' other posts included one threatening to slit the throat of an FBI agent and another about making a name for himself by shooting kindergartners.
The issue before the Supreme Court is whether Elonis' conviction requires proof of subjective intent to threaten. Elonis argued that his posts were therapeutic in nature, not real threats, and protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.
While the Supreme Court considers true threats and the limits of free speech on social media, it is a reminder to all of us to pause before we post. Though Elonis' posts might be on the extreme end of the spectrum, in this age of social media, it is far too easy to post and regret.
Elonis v. United States, docket no. 13-983.
See also http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/elonis-v-united-states/