On Dec. 1, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Anthony Elonis, a 31-year-old Pennsylvanian convicted of posting violent, threatening statements on Facebook. A jury found Elonis guilty of communicating threats to injure another person in violation of a federal statute. The Supreme Court’s ruling on what constitutes a criminal threat on social media websites, like Facebook, has potential consequences for the way that people express themselves on social media.
In 2010, Elonis – operating his Facebook account under the pseudonym “Tone Dougie” – posted threatening rants on his own page about killing his estranged wife, slitting the throat of an FBI agent and even shooting up a kindergarten. For example, he posted the following remarks about his wife, Tara, shortly after she obtained a restraining order against him: