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Facebook Threats Argument Next Week

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Elonis v. United States, the Facebook threats case, will be argued next week.  We filed our brief last October, and I wrote this post the same day.

Amy Howe has this "plain English" post on the case at SCOTUSblog.  She noted it is unlikely that the Justices are much familiar with Facebook and wonders if that will affect the case.  It shouldn't, in my opinion.  The definition of a prohibited threat should not vary with the medium.  The fact that people rant all the time on the internet does not warrant extending First Amendment protection when rant crosses the line to threats. 

A couple of amicus briefs supporting Elonis take the position, in essence, that the routine debasement of speech in our society in media such as online posting and gangsta rap are a reason to take a more expansive view of First Amendment protection of threats.  If this downward spiral of our society has any effect at all on the decision, it should be in the other direction, in my opinion.  We have gone way too far in letting it all hang out and need to tuck some of it back in.

A good example of the ill effects of extreme disinhibition is SCOTUSblog itself.  That blog used to have comments, and I enjoyed commenting there, exchanging views with thoughtful, intelligent, informed people, many of whom disagreed with me.  But the comment section turned into a cesspool, as the comments of so many blogs do.  They tried requiring people to use their real names, and that helped but not enough.  Finally they axed the comments altogether because they dragged down the quality of the blog.  The rudeness of a few ruined the medium for those of us who wanted to exchange views at a refined level.

1 Comment

Tell me about it. Doug Berman is a pal of mine, a friendly adversary, and I used to comment on his blog, SL&P, frequently. But it's a defense-oriented blog, and a regular spokesman for a dissenting view was more than several of his commenters could handle with anything even approaching adult manners.

It got to the point that I became the target of regular and graphic vulgarity and insults of every sort. One person told me he sincerely hoped my grandchildren will p*ss on my grave. Another said that I am, of all things, a necrophiliac. A third, the Texas blogger Gritsforbreakfast, fumed that I support all government killing in all circumstances. No word of rebuke was uttered by the SL&P's management to any of this, ever.

Things degenerated until my wife, no less, was subjected to religious slurs, at which point my indulgence came to an end.

One very astute commenter here, paul, once noted that he stays away from SL&P precisely because of the gutter its comments section has become.

It shouldn't be like this. It's unfortunate that comment-monitoring, rebuking, and the realistic threat of banning is needed, but that's the reality of it.

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