NYT calls for court to set new standard in Facebook threat case

The New York Times on Tuesday is urging the Supreme Court to declare that police need to prove somebody’s intent before sentencing them for making threats.

The newspaper’s editorial comes a day after the high court considered a case on a Pennsylvania man's Facebook posts, which sent him to jail for nearly four years.


“Threats can terrify people and disrupt lives, but in a country devoted to broad speech protections, it is not too much to require the government to prove that a speaker intended to make a threat before it can put him behind bars,” the Times wrote.

According to the Times, juries need to take context and intention into account to differentiate amateur rappers’ aggressive lyrics from serious threats to people’s safety.  

The case before the high court centers on Anthony Elonis, who made violent threats on the social network against his ex-wife, co-workers, an FBI agent and a school classroom. He has said that the posts were merely rap lyrics and ought to be protected by the First Amendment.

Justices on the court appeared split on what the standard should be, though many indicated a desire to clarify the law.

The case before the high court is Elonis v. U.S. A decision is expected is coming months.