The Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of a Pennsylvania man who posted several violent messages on Facebook and was convicted under a federal threat statute — the first time the Court addressed the implications of free speech on social media.
The Court said that it wasn’t enough to convict the man based solely on the idea that a reasonable person would regard his communications as a threat.
“Our holding makes clear that negligence is not sufficient to support a conviction,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.
The Court held that the legal standard used to convict him was too low, but left open what the standard should be. It is a narrow ruling and the Court did not address the larger constitutional issue.
The case concerns a Pennsylvania man, Anthony D. Elonis, who posted several violent messages on his social media account after his wife left him. He claimed he was an artist who turned to rap lyrics for therapeutic purposes to help him cope with depression.
“There¹s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you,” he wrote in one post.
“Enough elementary schools in a ten mile radius to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined,” he wrote in another.
He was convicted for violating a federal threat statute.
Elonis appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court arguing that the government should have been required to prove he actually intended to make a threat before sending him to jail for a 44 month term. Instead, the jury was told the standard was whether a “reasonable person” would have understood the words to be a threat.