Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding whether the First Amendment protects speech over the Internet. Specifically, the case looks at whether people can be prosecuted for violent social media threats.
Anthony Elonis, a 31-year-old theme park employee from Pennsylvania, was convicted of breaking a federal law that prevents people from threatening each other. Elonis' conviction came after he posted several violent rap lyrics on Facebook.
One post about his wife said: "There's one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I'm not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts."
Attorneys for Elonis argue that his words should not be considered threatening because they were spontaneous and he did not indent to act on his words. The government says it does not matter what he indented; what matters is if a reasonable person would feel threatened from his words.
For more than four decades, the Supreme Court has said that “true threats” to harm another person are not protected speech under the First Amendment.
Elonis's wife testified that her husband's comments made her fear for her life. He was convicted and was sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison.
The Justice Department argued that no matter what someone believes about his comments, it does not lessen the fear and anxiety they might cause for other people.
Now, the Supreme Court will have to rule on whether prosecutors in cases like these will have to produce proof of intent or simply have to proof that a reasonable person took the threat seriously.
The decision is expected in January or February.