Monday, December 15, 2014

What happens when social media forums are used for credible threats?

By Abigail Clarke: Contributing Content Blogger

Quite recently, the Supreme Court in the US heard a case concerning what exactly constitutes a threat made through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. A man was sentenced to 44 months in prison for making credible threats toward his ex-wife over Facebook and properly so in my view of things. What maddens me is this bit. This man somehow caught the ear of the high court in the states who were willing to hear his case as to why his sentence was wrong. Pardon? This was allowed? There should be no interpretation about the matter. We already know that threats made online are often carried out in the real world. People are killed or injured. Despite the reality scare, in court it was argued under the US Constitution and federal threat statute that a jury there must not only find that a reasonable person would interpret words seen online as threatening but that the harasser actually intended the words to be threatening. This sounds like picking at horse hairs to me. The man who made the threats that were identified at the time as credible, in court tried to say of course he was “joking” around and just having a bit of “venting” so that he never intended to act on any of the statements he made. What else might he say when trying to get off a 44 month prison sentence? Assuming for a moment that he was really just joking it wasn't taken that way by his ex-wife who experienced mental trauma as a woman. She knew him, had been married to him, and knew well and firsthand of his violent tendencies and behaviours. Therefore these threats were credible and an ongoing demonstration of the abuse she'd already endured in the marriage. The US Supreme Court is set to make a ruling on this case this year but what really is there to consider in this case? Using social media in the way this man did is another method of cyber stalking and should be treated as such.