Your Online Rant Or Verbal Venting Can Lead To Criminal Charges If You Make A Threat

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Your Online Rant Or Verbal Venting Can Lead To Criminal Charges If You Make A Threat

12 May 2015
 Categories: Law, Blog

There's a line between "expressing your anger and frustration" and making a criminal threat. Make the threat big enough and you could even be charged with terrorism. In the wake of 9/11, school shootings, and riots against the police, it's more important than ever to learn where your right to free speech ends and your ability to get into serious trouble begins.

The First Amendment Doesn't Give You A Free Pass To Say Anything That You Want

The First Amendment protects your right to express your opinions - even if they're angry, unpleasant, or outright ugly. However, if you start making threats - or you encourage other people to commit acts of violence - your speech is no longer protected. 

If you say something threatening that's obviously a joke or hyperbole, it's still considered free speech. Only something that could be considered a "true threat" falls outside of the realm of protected speech and becomes criminal in nature. 

The Rules About What's Considered A "True Threat" Aren't Really All That Clear

There's still an unclear standard by which the courts have to judge whether or not a threat is considered a true threat. Currently, the courts have used what is considered to be an objective standard, which asks whether or not a reasonable person would perceive the threat to be genuine. In other words, "Does it sound like a real threat?"

For example, if you joke on your social media page that anybody who disturbs you before your first cup of coffee is risking life and limb, nobody is likely to take you seriously - hopefully. However, you can't necessarily count on the reasonableness of everyone who reads your page, even if you add a "lol" or "jk" - internet slang for "laughing out loud" and "just kidding" after your post. 

The Supreme Court has recently heard arguments that in order for something to be a true threat it would have to also meet a subjective standard, as well as the objective standard, would have to be met. The court would have to prove not only that the threat sounded real but that it was intended to be real. However, the court hasn't made it's ruling yet, which means that courts are still free to use the objective standard only.

Your state laws can affect exactly what determines a terroristic threat and what doesn't. Generally speaking, if you're about to make a statement - online or off - that includes a threat to commit violence and the threat could possibly be taken seriously by any specific person, you might want to rethink it. If it's too late and you've already spoken or posted something online that's being taken seriously, contact an attorney right away for assistance. To learn more, contact a website like