When Pennsylvania man Anthony Elonis took his case to the Supreme Court, claiming that threats he made against his wife and an FBI agent counted as free speech, many social media experts were curious to see the results. So far in the case, however, the Supreme Court has seemed extremely unlikely to protect Facebook threats under the First Amendment.
Elonis’ attorney claimed that the prosecution not only needed to prove that the messages were perceived as threatening by their targets, but that Elonis himself actually intended to carry them through. However, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not convinced.
“How does one prove what’s in somebody else’s mind?” she said. “[A] reasonable person [would] think that the words would put someone in fear.”
Some free speech advocates stood up for Elonis and expressed fear that the ruling could potentially restrict what is allowed on social media. However, advocates for domestic abuse victims strongly supported the original conviction, and urged the Supreme Court to uphold it. For now, it seems, they almost certainly will. Threats are still threats, according to the court’s line of thinking, and it doesn’t matter where they’re posted or whether they’re meant. Since it’s impossible to know the intentions of an individual, all law enforcement has to go off of is the words of the accused – whether they’re online or not.