Top court to hear Facebook-threats case



Can you be charged with a crime for something you post online? That's the key question behind a case the United States Supreme Court has agreed to take on.
The outcome could determine what's considered free speech and what's illegal on social media.
Central Florida has seen social media land people in trouble.
A Melbourne man was sentenced to 15 months in prison for Facebook posts threatening to kill President Obama.
Young girls in Polk County were accused of cyberbullying a 12-year-old girl who later committed suicide.
A prosecutor in Orange County was recently reprimanded for a Facebook post he made about single moms.
Now a case out of Pennsylvania is going to the Supreme Court.
In 2010, Anthony Elonis took to Facebook to talk about killing his wife and others, including FBI agents.
His attorneys are asking the Supreme Court to review his conviction, arguing that he never intended actual violence.  Elonis said his posts -- in the form of rap lyrics -- were simply an artistic expression.
"It's still a threat. And it's still illegal," said Rollins College communications professor Ted Gournelos.
Gournelos said he believes that the Supreme Court will follow in line with judges in lower courts, who sided with the argument that threatening someone online is no different than doing it in person. Gournelos said in some ways it's worse.
"If you say it in person, then nobody has a record. It's he-said, she-said. But if you write it down, it's on a permanent record and it's circulated, in some cases to hundreds, thousands, millions of people. That's a widely expressed threat," Gournelos said.
Gournelos said the conversation that the Elonis case has sparked is long overdue.
"We're now dealing with the repercussions of cyberbullying, and of people doing insane things online and not realizing their bosses are going to see it, their spouses are going to see it," he said.
What the justices have to decide is whether that matters, as long as a "reasonable person" would feel threatened.
Elonis' wife had obtained a "protection from abuse" order against him, which led to more rants directed at more people.
Elonis was arrested that December and eventually given a 44-month sentence plus three years' supervised release. He finished his prison term in February.