Do threats posted on Facebook constitute a crime? That question will soon be answered by the United States Supreme Court. The case stems from a particularly contentious divorce and custody battle in Pennsylvania.
According to SCOTUS Blog, NPR News and multiple media reports, Anthony Elonis's ex-wife perceived the disturbing posts on Facebook as threatening. She even pursued a restraining order against her ex-husband as a result. One of the posts included "There's one way to love ya, but a thousand ways to kill ya, And I'm not going to rest until your body is a mess." Anthony Elonis, however, has maintained that this and similar posts were always put into context that would indicate they were simply expressions of speech and that they were never intended to harm or threaten his ex-wife. A restraining order was eventually granted but Elonis continued to post in a similar fashion to Facebook. He was indicted for violating the court order and other crimes and sentenced to nearly four years in prison. His appeal has now made it to the highest court.
This case has wide-ranging implications for proponents of free speech. Since Elonis claims he did not intentionally threaten his wife, a strong argument will need to be made disproving his assertion. For his conviction to be upheld, the Court must decide that he intended for his words to make his ex-wife fear for her life. Whatever the Court decides, the case will have significant implications for the future of social media as similar cases are sure to arise.