Supreme Court. Social Media. Freedom of Speech. Facebook.

Since its inception, social media networking services such as Facebook and Twitter offer us an outlet to share our thoughts, concerns, opinions, and everyday lives. But what happens when we cross the line on the Internet and make threats against another individual? Is this simply our freedom of speech or should this be considered a criminal act? Well this is exactly what the Supreme Court plans to rule over in the case of Elonis v. United States.

Supreme Court. Elonis v. United States.

Following the breakup of his marriage in 2010, Anthony Elonis, a 31-year-old former theme park employee from Pennsylvania, started posting violent statements on his Facebook page regarding his ex-wife. One of Mr. Elonis’ posts said, “If I only knew then what I know now, I would have smothered [you] with a pillow, dumped your body in the back seat, dropped you off in Toad Creek, and made it look like a rape and murder.” According to a Los Angeles Times article, when the FBI got involved, Elonis posted that he felt as though he wanted to kill the agent who questioned him as well as to shoot a kindergarten class. Elonis was convicted by a jury for posting such threatening messages and a judge upheld the verdict. Mr. Elonis’ attorney, John Elwood, is appealing citing that his posts are similar to songs such as “Kim” and “Kill You” by rapper Eminem where the artist sings about killing his then-wife and mother of his children.  Ironically, Eminem is now purported to be terrified that his daughter is dating a guy who was raised on Eminem’s music and worships the rapper. Freedom of Speech–how much is too much especially on social media venues?
Furthermore, advocates for freedom of speech are quite concerned about giving the government too much power where people can be punished for rants and offensive language via the Internet. However, Deputy Solicitor Gen. Michael Dreeben said “You’re accountable for the consequences” of your words, and went on to say that it is a federal crime to transmit “any threat to injure” another person over the Internet or telephone. A decision is expected in January or February, so stay tuned.


Facebook has a battery of lawyers to defend its every action.  Yet, in an age where domestic violence is taking center stage, this is definitely a case to watch.  Plus, it’s likely to have a large impact on how and what people can or cannot say on the Internet, so stay tuned.
I’m Francine Ward, Attorney, Speaker, and Author sharing my opinion. Share your thoughts about this case. Join the conversation on my legal Facebook Fan Page, legal Twitter Page, or in one of my LinkedIn groups.

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