The Supreme Court has agreed to consider a case that could determine the degree to which making threats on social media websites like Facebook are free speech or criminal activity.
The high court has agreed to hear the case of Anthony Elonis, who wrote statements on Facebook about killing his wife and other people. Elonis ultimately received a 44 month jail term.
However, many people aren't quite sure if all threats made over social media should be criminalized. MU student James Gerlock said he remembers sending a threatening message to someone he knew over Facebook.
"It was just a common "kid got drunk at my house, messed some stuff up", and I just let him know "you know, you should probably take care of this," except in harsher terms," Gerlock said. "But that was different; I wasn't threatening to kill him or anything like that."
"It's a tough line to draw I guess, really," said MU student Kyle Dhuse. "I don't know. I'd have to go with... you can't go arrest someone just for a threat over the internet," Dhuse said.
Facebook user Marla Guzman said she thinks it would be difficult to judge all cases the same way. "Freedom of speech, it's important," Guzman said. "But, I think people abuse that right to just say what they want, whenever they want."
University of Missouri Law Professor Christina Wells said the center of the matter is what constitutes a threat.
"Should it be a threat based upon what the recipient reasonably believed, or does the person who is making the threat have to subjectively intend to be threatening the person?" Well said.
"The electronic, the internet issue comes up because often you aren't directly communicating with someone. So, unless you are sending an email to someone, and... "This is a personal communication and I meant for you to get this", which makes it much more threatening... the internet makes it a more diffused statement."
In the 1960s, the Supreme Court ruled that "true threats" to harm another person are not protected speech, but Wells said in many ways, electronic threats are a legal gray area.
Wells said whatever decision the Supreme Court makes, free speech laws are bound to be affected. Wells said she believes the Supreme Court could have a decision as early as March 2015.