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Is Making a Threat on Social a Crime?

In the age of social media, we all should be cautious about what we are posting online. Not only can an inappropriate post get you in trouble with friends, family, or your partner, but certain types of posts on social media may even get you in trouble with law enforcement.

Criminal Social Media Examples

Recently, a student in Orlando was arrested and charged with a felony for making a threat against an area high school. The threat was made on the social media platform, Snapchat, but the school has not released exactly what was said in the threat. The 15-year old was charged under Florida Statute 836.10, which states, "written threats to kill, do bodily injury, or conduct a mass shooting or act of terrorism" constitute a felony and can lead to expulsion from school and arrest.

In another state, a Massachusetts man was charged with using interstate and foreign commerce to transmit a threat to injure another person. He was accused of offering $500 to anyone who would kill a federal immigration officer. He used Twitter to relay his threat and had said, "I am broke but will scrounge and literally give $500 to anyone who kills an ICE agent."

A man in Texas was sentenced to over three years in federal prison after he issued threats to schools in Minnesota over social media and the phone.

Social Media as a Crime

Issuing a threat on social media is a federal crime, and a conviction can mean up to five years in federal prison. In the state of Florida, it is considered a second-degree felony to write a threat on social media, which means that any time you choose to make a threat on social media, you are potentially setting yourself up for a felony record if convicted.

Defenses to Social Media Crimes

The best way to avoid a conviction due to a social media threat is to avoid making any threats online, even if they are meant as a joke or hoax. Threats made toward schools, regardless of the severity of the threat, will be taken seriously by authorities.

The context of some threats may be considered in a court of law. If the threat is vague and not specifically directed, the comment may not be a crime. In the context of social media threats, the speaker's intent is very important.

If you have been arrested and accused of making threats on social media, it's important that you immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your attorney will work with you on the defense to the comments made through the specific context under which they were made and other issues that may make the comment legal.

References:

Hoax Threats are Crimes. (2018, May 23). Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/hoax-threats-awareness-052318

Khoury, G. (n.d.). Is It Illegal to Threaten Someone Online? Retrieved from https://blogs.findlaw.com/blotter/2016/10/is-it-illegal-to-threaten-someone-online.html

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