Internet free speech is a growing concern given internet bullying and threats of violence against innocent individuals. As of right now, you are basically free to make any kind of statement online (including on social media sites) without the fear of criminal prosecution.
However, the US Supreme Court is debating the right of free speech on internet sites like Facebook. The debate stems from a case called Elonis v. United States. In this case, Mr. Anthony Elonis posted a series of rants on Facebook stating that he wanted to kill his estranged wife. At one point the FBI got involved in the case and Elonis posted that he felt like killing the agent who was questioning him.
The US Supreme Court will likely rule on the issue of intent, meaning that criminal prosecutors may need to prove that Elonis actually intended to kill his ex. If the Supreme Court takes the other side of the argument, they may only require that the threats’ targets reasonably took the treats seriously. Regardless of the outcome, this case will cement what can and cannot be said on the internet without fear of criminal prosecution.
Many organizations are now involved in the debate. The American Civil Liberties Union is supporting Elonis’ arguments. On the other side of the debate the National Network to End Domestic Violence has taken a firm stance against violent speech online and has asked that the Supreme Court regulate online threats.
A final decision is expected to come from the US Supreme Court in January or February.
Matt Pfau is an attorney and founding partner at the law firm Parry & Pfau. Matt has a background in business consulting, estate planning, business start-ups and bankruptcy and is licensed to practice in both Nevada and California. A partner in the firm Parry & Pfau, he can be reached at 702-912-4451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.