Threats in Cyberspace

Friday, June 20, 2014


The Supreme Court will hear a case involving Anthony Elonis, a Pennsylvania man serving jail time for posting death threats against his wife on Facebook. Elonis says he didn’t mean it literally, and it’s up to the High Court to decide if that distinction matters. Brooke talks with Slate's Dahlia Lithwick about the impact this case could have on how violent speech online is viewed in the eyes of the law.


Dahlia Lithwick

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone

Comments [3]

Thatwood B. Telling from The Village

Michael-- Compared to hip-hop's target audience, the justices are certainly old. So, although "old" is a relative concept, I don't think it was misused in this context. And apart from Thomas, the male justices are white. But, granted, "old white male justices" wasn't the most polite way to refer to them.

But you may have a stronger point in calling her statement biased-- that is, if what Brooke was saying was that older white people are incapable of understanding hip-hop. But I don't think that was her point. I think she just meant that it's likely to take a lot of effort on their part and may never be as full an understanding as that experienced by someone who has grown up listening to the music.

Disrespectful? A little, but so what? Biased? Perhaps, but I think most people-- myself included-- would say this particular bias has some basis in fact. Inaccurate? No, not really.

Jun. 22 2014 10:26 PM
Michael from Washington Heights, NYC

Would Brooke like to be referred to as an "old white woman?" Then why does she refer to the Justices of the Supreme Court as "principally old white males." The implication is that these justices are intrinsically less able to render a valid decision based on their age and race. It's disrespectful, ageist, and racist.

Also, it's not accurate. Only three of the nine justices are men of European ancestry over the age of 65.

Please correct this statement on next weeks show. It's biased, disrespectful, and inaccurate...just the things that "On the Media" is supposed to be against.

Jun. 21 2014 09:55 PM
Douglas from El Paso

The Elonis case reminds me of the arrest and imprisonment last year of a South Texas teenager for chatting online with his gaming opponent, and of the arrest and imprisonment of Maryland man a few years ago for saying something about wanting to strangle a public official.

The teenager's post on Facebook indicated an intent to commit an act vaguely like the Newtown massacre, but I think that he was using that incident as a metaphor to describe the intensity of his participation in the online video game that he had just finished playing. In spite of this, schools near his home were unnecessarily put on lockdown, and he had to endure a traumatic few months in prison.

In Black's Law Dictionary, the definition of a threat includes the phrase "of the person on whom it operates." The teenager's remark was neither directed at nor directly communicated to a named person or group of persons.

The teenager's case motivated me to propose a legal definition of a threat as the following: A statement of intent to do specific harm to a named person or group of persons that is communicated directly to the person or group of persons named. According to this definition, a statement of desire to do harm is not a threat, but people are jailed nevertheless for expressing such a desire. If I tell a co-worker that I'd like to strangle our supervisor, a common workplace sentiment, should I be arrested and imprisoned?

Racial profiling and stop-and-frisk also exemplify unnecessary law-enforcement actions which are directed at perceived but not real threats. In his remarks on the Trayvon Martin case, President Obama recounted times when white people avoided him on the street.

Law enforcement's over-vigilant pursuit of perceived threats is a real threat to our civil liberties.

Uh, oh, . . . I hear the police knocking at my door.

Jun. 21 2014 12:35 PM

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