US Supreme Court ruling overturns conviction of man posting offensive messages on Facebook

The Supreme Court in the United States handed down a judgment last week that means that people can post messages on Facebook that can be offensive but not illegal provided they can show their intention is not physically to hurt someone else.

The case involved comments posted on Facebook made by an American citizen, Anthony Douglas Elonis, after his wife left him, among which were the words “Hurry up and die bitch”. He was convicted under federal law for threatening to injure someone else, a conviction that was upheld on appeal.  

Mr Elonis said his posts were not threatening but “therapeutic” and that the jury in the court had taken his words out of context.  

Writing for the court’s majority, Chief Justice John Roberts ruled that the “reasonable person” test (i.e. that a clear-thinking person would have seen Elonis’ Facebook postings as explicitly menacing) used by the lower court wasn’t a high enough standard to prove that Elonis’ graphic postings constituted a legitimate threat to his wife’s life. The lower court must prove intent as well.

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