A man who posted graphic threats towards his wife, describing how he would torture and kill his wife, didn’t actually threaten her within the legal meaning of the term, the Supreme Court ruled Monday. The decision is at once a victory for free speech and a significant hurdle for victims of online harassment.
Before the case ended up in the Supreme Court, Anthony Elonis was convicted on four counts of criminal threats over his posts, which the Times reports contained references to putting his wife’s “head on a stick,” killing an FBI agent, and shooting up a class full of children to “make a name” for himself. Elonis claimed the posts were merely rap lyrics and not intended to be threatening.
The prosecution argued that his messages were so explicit that they could only be taken one way. The Court ruled Monday that they were not.
Only Clarence Thomas dissented, writing, “Our job is to decide questions, not create them. Given the majority’s ostensible concern for protecting innocent actors, one would have expected it to announce a clear rule — any clear rule.”
Be Just and Fear Not