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Community Commentary

Supreme Court rules correctly in case over freedom of speech

The Supreme Court made the right decision recently when it overturned the conviction of a man who posted threatening messages about his ex-wife on Facebook (Elonis vs. United States, 2015).

The court said that Facebook posts aren’t criminal.

Rapper Anthony Elonis posted violent messages on his Facebook page after his ex-wife left him in 2010.

Elonis posted messages about how he would kill his ex-wife, shoot up a kindergarten class, blow up the amusement park where he worked and hurt an FBI agent who came to his house to investigate him.  He said his posts were tongue-and-cheek, which is a style used by rap artists.  However, according to court transcripts, his ex-wife Tara Elonis testified that she felt threatened, “I felt like I was being stalked. I felt extremely afraid for mine and my children’s and my families’ lives.”

Anthony served three years in prison for posting violent messages.

The rapper posted, “There’s one way to love you, but a thousand ways to kill you” and “I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.”

Anthony testified he posted ‘nothing that hasn’t been said already.’

Anthony said he was inspired by rapper Eminem.

Eminem wrote a song about killing his ex-wife Kim Mathers.  Eminem expresses hate and outrage in his song “Kim.”

Anthony argued that what he said on Facebook was therapeutic referring to rap lyrics protected by the First Amendment. He said his posts were not true threats.

His comments should be legal.

Did the lower court use the wrong standard to convict him?

The correct standard would have been to prove that he intended to do harm.

The court has yet to decide whether these statements are considered hate speech.

Hate speech is defined as words that are ‘offensive, hurtful or wounding and are directed at racial or ethnic characteristics, gender, religious affiliation or sexual preference’ (Nelson vs. Streeter, 2004). That means anti-gay language, racist comments, ethnic slurs, sexist language is protected and considered free speech.

The government should not begin putting restrictions on our freedoms.

That’s a slippery slope.

Where do you draw the line? The A.C.L.U. doesn’t want to see people convicted over a misconception.

“The age-old principle is that we don’t criminalize speech without that clear intent,” said Lee Rowland, an A.C.L.U. staff attorney. “If people are allowed to vent, they’re less likely to resort to violence.”

On the other hand, The National Network to End Domestic Violence said victims “have experienced real-life terror caused by increasingly graphic and public posts to Facebook and other social media sites — terror that is exacerbated precisely because abusers now harness the power of technology, ‘enabling them to reach their victims’ everyday lives at the click of a mouse or the touch of a screen.’”

Bill Faris from Crisis Services of North Alabama can’t believe the court ruled that posting threatening messages on social media is not a crime unless the user intends to carry out those threats. “It’s not just punches and choking and that kind of stuff,” Faris said.

“These threats are damaging and hurtful in and of itself. I’m concerned about the Supreme Court’s ruling.”

However, this case is a win for free speech. It remains to be seen how much speech is permissible online.

Diane Record is an Oceanside resident and former radio journalist who’s pursuing a master’s degree in digital journalism at National University.