• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
News Alert: DIRECTV Customers: Tell DIRECTV to bring back KTVA - Call 800-531-5000. - Read More
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 14s

Threatening Facebook posts prompt Supreme Court review

By CBS/AP 5:50 PM June 16, 2014
WASHINGTON –

The Supreme Court will consider the free speech rights of people who use violent or threatening language on Facebook and other electronic media where the speaker’s intent is not always clear.

The court on Monday agreed to take up the case of an eastern Pennsylvania man sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison for posting violent online rants against his estranged wife, law enforcement officials and former co-workers.

A federal appeals court rejected Anthony Elonis’ claim that his comments were protected by the First Amendment. He says he never meant to carry out the threats. He claims he was depressed and made the online posts in the form of rap lyrics as a way of venting his frustration after his wife left him.

At his trial, the jury was instructed that Elonis could be found guilty if an objective person could consider his posts to be threatening. Attorneys for Elonis argue that the jury should have been told to apply a subjective standard and decide whether Elonis meant the messages to be understood as threats.

Elonis’s lawyers say a subjective standard is appropriate given the impersonal nature of communication over the Internet, which can lead people to misinterpret messages. They argue that comments intended for a smaller audience can be viewed by others unfamiliar with the context and interpret the statements differently than was intended.

The Obama administration says requiring proof of a subjective threat would undermine the purpose of the federal law prohibiting threats.

The high court said it will consider whether conviction of threatening another person under federal law “requires proof of the defendant’s subjective intent to threaten.”

For more than 40 years, the Supreme Court has said that “true threats” to harm another person are not protected speech under the First Amendment. But the court has cautioned that laws prohibiting threats must not infringe on constitutionally protected speech. That includes “political hyperbole” or “unpleasantly sharp attacks” that fall shy of true threats.

The federal statute targeting threats of violence is likely to be used more often in the coming years “as our speech increasingly migrates from in-person and traditional handwritten communication to digital devices and the Internet,” said Clay Calvert, a law professor at the University of Florida.

Calvert, one of several free speech advocates who submitted a legal brief urging the court to use a subjective standard, said people mistakenly seem to feel that they can get away with more incendiary speech on the Internet, in tweets and in texts.

Elonis’ estranged wife testified at his trial the postings made her fear for her life. One post about his wife said, “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.”

FBI agents visited Elonis at home after the amusement park that fired him contacted law enforcement officials about his posts. After the agents left, Elonis wrote: “Little agent lady stood so close, took all the strength I had not to turn the (woman) ghost. Pull my knife, flick my wrist and slit her throat.”

The case is Elonis v. United States, 13-983.

In 2012, a British man was charged after posting an offensive status update on Facebook about an abducted 5-year-old girl. Matthew Woods was charged by British police under section 127 of the U.K. Communications Act 2003, which found that his message was “grossly offensive” or “of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.”

© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Latest Stories

  • Body cam shows use of deadly force by Fairbanks officer, no criminal charges filed

    by Sierra Starks on Feb 24, 18:40

    In an unprecedented move, the Fairbanks Police Department have released body camera footage of an August 2016 incident during which a sergeant shot and killed an armed man. James Robert Richards, 28, was shot twice in the head after assaulting two people at the Alaska Motel and leading police on a chase through downtown Fairbanks, according to the […]

  • News

    Half a million Little Tikes swings recalled following reports of injuries

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Feb 24, 16:11

    More than half a million Little Tikes swings have been recalled after a number of injuries were reported, according to a notice on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) website. The recall notice states that Little Tikes has received more than 140 reports of the 2-in-1 Snug’n Secure pink toddler swings breaking. Of those […]

  • Politics

    Dozens demand town hall meeting with Sen. Sullivan during annual address to lawmakers

    by Liz Raines on Feb 24, 15:25

    A group of about 50 people gathered in front of the state capitol building in Juneau to demand a town hall meeting with Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan Friday afternoon. Sullivan was in Juneau to deliver an annual address to lawmakers on his work in Congress. In his speech, the Republican senator did not reference the […]

  • News

    Addicts using pets to score drugs, veterinarians warn

    by Jennifer Earl / CBS News on Feb 24, 15:18

    As animal lovers, veterinarians pride themselves on being trusting and caring people. They don’t want to believe anyone would intentionally hurt their pet, but in recent years, they’ve had to train themselves to look out for those who do just that as drug addicts turn toward animals to score pain medication they can’t easily access. […]

  • Purple Reign: Prince tribute show in Anchorage for 1 night only

    by Daybreak Staff on Feb 24, 15:16

    Purple Reign: The Ultimate Prince Tribute Show is coming to Anchorage for one night only. The Prince impersonator Jason Tenner has won multiple awards for his act, and performs regularly in Las Vegas. According to Tenner’s website, Purple Reign started at University of Nevada Las Vegas clubs and morphed into what is known as the “#1 Prince […]

  • Mushers compete for record purse of $100,000 in Fur Rondy sled dog races

    by Daybreak Staff on Feb 24, 12:57

    The Fur Rendezvous Open World Sled Dog Championship Race starts Friday, Feb. 24. Racers will compete for a record-setting purse of $100,000. “Dogs don’t know it, they run with with the same enthusiasm every year,” said Janet Clark, the 2017 Fur Rondy race marshal. This is different from the Iditarod, which is a long-haul 1,000-mile race […]

  • Sports

    Therapy, husband lead Aliy Zirkle back to Iditarod

    by Mark Thiessen / Associated Press on Feb 24, 12:09

    One of dog mushing’s leading figures has suffered panic attacks and undergone therapy in the year since she was stalked by a drunken snowmobile driver on an isolated stretch of the Iditarod race across Alaska. Aliy Zirkle tells The Associated Press that she has had a really hard time during the first half of this […]

  • DayBreak

    Daybreak Adopt-A-Pet: Feb. 24, 2017

    by Daybreak Staff on Feb 24, 12:00

    From Anchorage Animal Care and Control: Patches: Patches is an inquisitive five-month-old male rabbit who loves exploring and socializing with people, and his favorite treat is lettuce. Ilia & Mir: Ilia and Mir are a delightful pair of guinea pigs.  Ilia is more outgoing and Mir is content just hanging out.  They would do best […]