Pick a court case and write a brief overview of that court case in relation with social media. Discuss the legal issues that were brought into question (which laws were considered broken), and if you think the case was actually in violation of privacy or defamation laws. Please explain why you did or did not agree with the court ruling.
Important note: Citing a court case in the proper format is key. United States v. Paramount (1948) is correct.
Social Media and the Courts
Over the last decade, there has been a drastic rise in social media court cases in the courtroom. There is a lot of public and private scrutiny on posts that people make on social media. Social media posts have become a viable source of evidence in a court of law, no matter the context. In the recent past, people have been fired, denied custody, and refused disability claims due to reckless social media engagements. This paper presents one of the highly publicized social media court cases in the U.S.
The United States v. Anthony Elonis is one of first social media cases involving threat to be heard in the courtroom. Anthony, a rapper and father, took to Facebook and posted triggering rap lyrics stating the fantasies of killing when his wife left with his children. He made threats to his wife, employee, co-workers, F.B.I., and local police. (Elonis V.United States, 2018). Elonis’s wife filed a protection order against him and reported the threats to the police. In his series of violent rap lyrics posts, Elonis claimed allegiance to a Kindergarten class shooting that drew the attention of the F.B.I. After the F.B.I. agents visited his house, Elonis posted aggressive and violent lyrics about the agents.
At this point, Elonis was charged with five counts of violating 18 U.S.C &875 (c) based on the Federal anti-threat statute 18 U.S.C&875 (c) law. In his defense Elonis stated that the posts were fictitious and he was expressing his artistic side as a form of therapy from the challenges he was facing in life. However, the legal principle applied during the trial court proceedings did not provide an intent element. Therefore the case was ruled on the basis that the U.S. government has found prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a sane person would perceive Elonis’ post as a threat. As a result, the court ruled out this possibility and was convicted on four of the five charges and sentenced to several years in prison. Following the trial, the Third circuit confirmed and approved the conviction and the trial’s judge’s final instructions on intent. After numerous appeals from his lawyer, the Supreme Court decision is reversed, and Anthony Elonis was released from jail (Elonis v. United States, 2010).
The Federal anti-threat Statute 18 U.S. & 875 (c) law clearly states that any person who transmits information to kill or maim is liable to a fine or a maximum of five years in prison. (Legal Information Institute, 1992). In my opinion, the case did not violate Elonis’s privacy as information posted on Facebook, whether private or public, can be used to communicate threats, breach privacy, and defame people or companies. Every post on social media networking sites can be used as credible evidence in a court of law (BoscoLegal, 2020).
After a detailed analysis of the court case, I can’t entirely agree with the court ruling. The trial courts did not consider the mental state of the defendant before making the ruling. The decision was made based on whether a sane person would perceive the purported lyrics as a threat to their lives (United States Courts, 2018). The criminal statute used for this case does not contain the mental state element, and therefore the ruling made is invalid and did not warrant Anthony Elonis.
In summary the Elonis v. the United States is a credible source reference as it was the first social media case involving threats in the history of the U.S. justice system.
BoscoLegal, 2020. Court Cases Relevant to Using Social Media Evidence. [Online]
Available at: https://www.boscolegal.org/court-resources/social-media-case-law/
Elonis v. United States, 2010. Elonis v. United States. [Online]
Available at: https://www.freedomworks.org/judicial-reform/courts/federal-courts/united-states-court-appeals-3rd-circuit
Elonis V.United States, 2018. Elonis V.United States. [Online]
Available at: https://legaldictionary.net/elonis-v-united-states/
[Accessed December 2018].
Legal Information Institute, 1992. Legal Information Institute. [Online]
Available at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/875
United States Courts, 2018. Facts and Case Summary -Elonis v.U.S. [Online]
Available at: https://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/facts-and-case-summary-elonis-v-us