Free speech: U.S. Supreme Court overturns conviction for Facebook threats

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 8-1 to void the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who served 44 months in jail for posting threats against his estranged wife on Facebook. The  court’s decision provides some slack for rap artists who routinely use hyperbole in their lyrics but did not provide any clarification of standards necessary to prove “true threat.” (Hollywood Reporter, June 1, 2015, by Eriq Gardner)

The court determined that the postings – references to putting his wife’s “head on a stick,” killing an FBI agent and shooting up a school room filled with children – were not to be taken literally and did not qualify as criminal intent. (Gawker, June 2, 2015, by Gabrielle Bluestone)

In his majority opinion Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that a conviction should be based on more than how a reasonable person might understand the posts and that the prosecutors must prove that the accused was aware that the words would be considered a threat. (The New York Times, June 1, 2015, by Adam Liptak)

Critics of the decision say that the ruling does does not provide protections to those, mostly women, who routinely face cyber threats. “It sends the message to abusive partners, obsessive stalkers, or angry rejected boys that it’s just fine to post a little ditty in social media and claim they were joking. It sends the correlating message to women that their realistic assessments of risk and the costs of changing their lives in response to threats is irrelevant. It solves nothing and, arguably, makes things worse,” said Soraya Chemaly of the Women’s Media Center. It a matter of speculation of how the intentional threat standard will be applied. (Cosmopolitan, June 1, 2015, by Jill Filipovic)