The Supreme Court on Monday made it harder for prosecutors to convict those who make violent statements on Facebook and other social media, saying it is not enough that an ordinary person would find the rants threatening.
In its first examination of the murky rules regarding conduct on the Internet, the court moved cautiously while throwing out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man whose postings, delivered in rap-lyric style, suggested killing his estranged wife, federal law enforcement officials and even a kindergarten class.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., noting that Anthony Douglas Elonis had said he intended his postings to be fictitious and even therapeutic, said a defendant’s state of mind had to be considered.
But the opinion offered little in the way of specifics about what must be proved for a conviction, and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. criticized the opinion as more confusing than enlightening.
Does this mean I can just post anything on this blog and there are no consequences? Have I been careful for years for no reason? Elonis was fairly descriptive in his “rap music.” Let’s check out some of his “artistry”:
Writing about his estranged wife, Tara, Elonis had posted: “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.”
Prosecutors said there was no doubt Elonis was doing that on his Facebook feed during a two-month period in 2010. His wife had left with their two children, and Elonis, then 27 and working at an Allentown amusement park, grew increasingly despondent and angry.
He was fired and responded with a post about being a nuclear bomb about to explode. He pondered making a name for himself by shooting up an elementary school.
That brought a visit from an FBI agent, and the prolific Elonis later posted a fantasy about slitting the agent’s throat and turning her into a “ghost.”
He sounds serious to me. I would find the FBI and local police very remiss if they didn’t investigate these threatening sounding words. How are we supposed to interpret his words?
I never thought I would be agreeing with Justices Thomas or Alito. What were the other 7 thinking? Elonis served 36 out of the 44 months he was convicted. I feel a little bit close to danger after today. Perhaps there simply are no more standards of decency.
Then there is FAcebook. What happens if they try to close this clown’s account? His account is still open under Anthony Douglas Elonis. Will Facebook be sued for violating his freedom of expression if they close his account? There are limits to the First Amendment…or at least there used to be.
I believe a very dangerous precedent was set today. Here is yet another confusing ruling. The lines are so blurred that no one will do anything when people are threatened.
Shame on the Supremes, for ruling on whatever bass-ackward ruling Elonis was. They did absolutely nothing but erase the lines of safety from violent psychopaths.