A case that may answer that question is headed to the Supreme Court of the land. Certainly, threatening another person’s life on social media is immoral, but should it be illegal? Is it protected by the First Amendment?
Anthony Elonis was convicted for posting threats on Facebook to injure his wife, his coworkers, the police, a kindergarten class and an FBI agent.
A district court decided that his postings were out of the scope of the First Amendment and instructed a jury that a “true threat” was made. Under the law, a true or objective threat is when the person being threatened is in fear for his life.
Anthony Elonis was fired from his job after posting a picture of a knife being held against the throat of a woman who had accused him of sexual harassment. Elonis’ wife, Tara, left him and took their two children after Elonis made this post on Facebook:
“That’s it, I’ve had about enough
I’m checking out and making a name for myself
Enough elementary schools in a ten mile radius
to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined
And hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a kindergarten class
The only question is . . . which one”
She testified at trial that his threats, some of which were written in rap-style lyrics, made her fear for her life. He wrote many other threatening posts including one saying, “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.”
Tara Elonis got an order of protection against him, which is when she said the threats got even worse.
Anthony Elonis was arrested in December 2010 and tried before a jury under a federal law that prohibits the use of interstate communications of threats to harm individuals.
He spent four years in prison and will spend another three years on probation.
What do you think? Are social media posts protected speech, or did the jury get it right when they found Elonis guilty?