Could a violent Facebook post or tweet land you in jail? - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Could a violent Facebook post or tweet land you in jail?

Attorney James Finkelstein Attorney James Finkelstein
D. A. Greg Edwards D. A. Greg Edwards

Social media is a popular outlet for people.   But at what point is violent or threatening language a crime? That's what the Supreme Court will decide.     

Social media is how many folks share their ideas and express opinions.   But what about violent or threatening language?  

"That's the problem with things like twitter and facebook and texting," said Attorney Jim Finklestein. "Is not that people don't, haven't always felt these emotions, they just haven't had the capability of immediately transmitting them to a particular person or to the world at large and that seems to be what gets them into trouble."     

The Supreme court agreed today to take up the case of Anthony Elonis, a Pennsylvania man who was sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison for posting violent online rants against his estranged wife, law enforcement officials and former co-workers.

"It's very necessary that the court makes some decision about this, I would say that. Because, what we have is a new means of communication," said Greg Edwards.     

The court is considering the free speech rights of people who use threatening language on Facebook and other electronic formats where the speaker's intent is not always clear.

"In Georgia for instance, making a terroristic threat we don't look at what the victim is thinking about, whether or not the victim is actually afraid. But we're looking at what is the intent of the person sending the message about what they want to do or what they're going to do," said Edwards.     

A federal appeals court rejected Elonis' claim that his Facebook posts were protected speech under the First Amendment.   

He says he never intended to harm anyone. "The problem with this case is, because of the apparently deranged mind of the individual who was charged, it appeared that he was trying to walk up to the edge, but not go over it," Finklestein said.   

The Supreme Court will now decide. A charge of terroristic threats is a felony and carries up to five years in prison. The high court will hear the case when its new term begins in the fall.


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