If you’ve spent any time at all on the internet, you are probably painfully aware of how people can do and say dumb things on online. For most, it’s probably fortunate that their antics were merely foolish, as the American justice system has begun to take a rather dim view of online threats by throwing internet loudmouths behind bars. Among those made an example of is Anthony Elonis, a Pennsylvanian man who served nearly 3 years in prison for making a variety of threats on his Facebook page against his ex-wife, co-workers and law enforcement. All the alleged threats were, according to him, merely expressions of creativity, “rapping to his Facebook friends.” Surprisingly, the US Supreme Court has decided to hear Anthony Elonis’ appeal of his conviction on the basis that he never intended to carry out these threats, and there may be legal precedents that support this position.
What this means for you:
I’m no Supreme Court Justice, but I do know that things published on the internet, particularly social media sites like Facebook, rarely stay private, and I think it’s a safe bet that publishing something on Facebook means that you want people to notice what you posted. However, things like Facebook and the Internet also cloud the determination of whether the poster actually intended for offended or threatened parties to view that content at all. The cynical among us will say, “Of course they wanted this to be read by everyone, including their target. This is the Internet. Nothing is private.” But, Facebook promises us that our posts will only be as public as we allow them to be, right? Only our small circle of Facebook friends can see this, right? A US court has already ruled in favor of one internet loudmouth who, in a drunken stupor, threatened to shoot the President on a Yahoo discussion forum.
Were these online bozos behaving poorly and exhibiting terrible judgement? Absolutely. Did they commit an actual crime? It’s still up for debate, says the Supreme Court. For the time being, my advice on this subject remains the same: Never say anything online (email, Facebook, Twitter, whatever) that you wouldn’t want plastered all over the CNN website front page the next morning.
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