The Ruling & What It Means for Kids
On June 1, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in a case that involved threats made on social media.
Elonis, v. United States involved a Pennsylvania man who posted on social media that he wanted to slit the throat of his estranged wife and was convicted of a crime under a federal law making it illegal to transmit a threat in federal commerce. The defendant argued he did not intend to threaten anyone and was merely exercising his free speech rights on Facebook. Ultimately, without addressing the question of free speech directly, the Supreme Court ruled that someone could not be convicted of a crime for posting online threats, even if a “reasonable person” regarded the posts as threats, unless there was proof that the writer him/herself actually intended the words as a threat.
So, what does this mean for students who might post comments which appear threatening online even if they don’t ever intend to carry out the actions in the threat? Essentially it means that while these students may not be criminally prosecuted for online “threats” they don’t intend to carry out, they can still get in plenty of trouble at school (many schools have zero tolerance policies regarding online posts). More importantly, their future may be affected in other ways.
Just because a prosecutor can’t prosecute a student for an online post doesn’t mean that a university who might be considering that student for admission will view that student as a good candidate for their university after viewing the post. Colleges are looking for students that will represent them in a positive fashion and be a strong ambassador for their school/brand. A potential student who posts threats online (even if they never intend to carry them out) is probably someone in the highly competitive world of college admissions that a school will pass on in favor of another equally qualified candidate who didn’t make a threat online for the world to see.
This kind of lack in good and sound judgment can affect college admissions, scholarships and even future job opportunities. Schools, coaches, scholarship committees and future employers are looking at students’ online profiles. Don’t let your online profile derail your future potential.