Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Elonis vs. U.S. The Supreme Court's ruling on social media harassment

This week, the Supreme Court ruled on a case dealing with social media harassment. In Elonis v.United States, the court had to decide whether Anthony Elonis had meant to threaten his wife through an online post.

Here is an example of one post:

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,
Soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.
Hurry up and die bitch
Fold up your [restraining order] and put it in your pocket. Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?

A lower court had Elonis arrested for 44 months after applying a "reasonable person" test on the case, which ascertained that the average person would have found the posts threatening. The Supreme Court disagreed, stating that the posts were an example of negligence, which did not amount to a 'true threat', although it never really defined what actually constituted a threat.

The decision is an important one, especially with the rise of harassment and verbal attacks against women on social media. Last year, actress Ashley Judd wrote a scathing public response to her attackers after they harassed her for making a comment on Twitter about a college sports game.

Reading the post above was shocking the first time. The next several reads evoked repulsiveness and dread. Keep in mind that this is only one of many comments Anthony Elonis had posted targeting his wife. If vowing to leave her "body a mess, soaked in blood" is not threatening, then I don't know what is.

The court's decision was based on legal matters, and tests the courts have to apply in order to decide a case. But the decision can be misinterpreted by anyone following the case as free reigns to harass online, which leaves women in a more vulnerable position on social media.

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