Archive

ShareThis Page
Justices consider social media, free speech | TribLIVE.com
News

Justices consider social media, free speech

WASHINGTON — Anthony Elonis went to prison after writing Facebook messages suggesting he might kill his wife. Now, his case is before the Supreme Court, which will consider for the first time how free-speech rights apply on social media.

Elonis, who cites singer Eminem as an inspiration, says his messages were rap lyrics that weren’t intended as threats and deserve protection as speech. Among his posts: “I’m not gonna rest until your body is a mess.” Another envisioned his wife’s “head on a stick.”

The court on Dec. 1 will consider overturning Elonis’s conviction for threatening his wife, local school children and an FBI agent. At stake, he says, is how much freedom users of social media have to express themselves.

“It would be very chilling on communications” if the verdict against Elonis is upheld, said John Elwood, his lawyer. “It would sweep in too much protected speech, and it’s just too lax a basis to go to jail.”

The dispute pits free speech defenders worried about the criminalization of online communications against advocates for crime victims who fear the court could erect barriers to prosecuting stalkers.

“This case is just about threatening speech,” lawyers for the National Network to End Domestic Violence wrote in court papers. “Advances in technology give perpetrators of intimate partner violence an ever-increasing array of tools to threaten their victims.”

The case stems from Facebook posts Elonis made after his wife left him in 2010 with their two children and he was fired from his job at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, an amusement park in Pennsylvania.

Before Halloween, he wrote that his son’s costume should be “matricide” and include his wife’s “head on a stick.” He later posted on the site: “There’s one way to love ya but a thousand ways to kill ya/ And I’m not gonna rest until your body is a mess.”


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.