John W. Whitehead
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a case that will significantly impact expression on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. In filing an amicus brief in Anthony D. Elonis v. United States of America, The Rutherford Institute argues that the First Amendment protects even inflammatory statements that may give offense or cause concern to others unless the statements were a credible threat to engage in violence against another and made by the defendant with the intent to cause fear in the alleged victim.
The case arises out of Facebook postings made by Anthony Elonis expressing his anger about events in his life, and which were based upon rap lyrics of artists such as Eminem and a comedy sketch of the group The Whitest Kids U’ Know.
Elonis was charged with making unlawful threats (it was never proven that he intended to threaten anyone) and sentenced to 44 months in jail after he posted allusions to popular song lyrics and comedy routines on his Facebook page.
“Whether it’s a Marine arrested for criticizing the government on Facebook or an ex-husband jailed for expressing his frustrations through rap lyrics on Facebook, the end result is the same–the criminalization of free speech,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.
“While social media and the Internet have become critical forums for individuals to freely share information and express their ideas, they have unfortunately also become tools for the government to monitor, control and punish the populace for behavior and speech that may be controversial but are far from criminal.”