The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case that would decide when a posting on social networking and media sites like Facebook is no longer protected free speech, but a criminal threat.
On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear the case of “Anthony Elonis v. United States,” which came about as the result of several angry and violent postings on Facebook in 2010 by Elonis, a divorced man from Steel City, Pennslyvania.
“Fold up your ['protection from abuse' order] and put it in your pocket. Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?” Elonis wrote in one post in 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Other posts by Elonis indicated he was planning a school shooting:
“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?”
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Elonis was eventually convicted in 2011 on four counts of violating federal law that prohibits transmitting threats to kidnap or injure anyone, leading to a nearly four-year prison sentence.
After his conviction, Elonis appealed his case, with a district court and the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 upholding his case and conviction.
Unlike other First Amendment issues, the case doesn’t center on whether Elonis’ postings were free speech but whether or not “conviction of threatening another person requires proof of the defendant's subjective intent to threaten," according to the questions posed to the Supreme Court.
How the court eventually rules on the case of Elonis v. United States could have far-reaching effects in codifying how the United States deals with online speech. But in the meantime, some government agencies are already looking for other solutions. According to ArsTechnica, the U.S. Secret Service announced in early June that it is looking to develop social media algorithms and software to detect sarcasm online.