Supreme Court To Discuss Online Free Speech After American Air Threat

Back in April, a boneheaded 14 year-old girl from the Netherlands cast out a threatening tweet to American Airlines, who promptly responded by turning her IP address over to Dutch authorities. Now, the Supreme Court will review whether tweets and Facebook posts fall under genuine threats, or are protected as free speech.

Sarah, aka @QueenDemetriax_ turned herself in, but not after she responded like the typical teenager, with pleas like "omg I was kidding" and "I'm so sorry I'm scared now." American Airlines rightfully pursued her, because you can't blame them for looking into it. If someone had said the same thing over the phone, the airline (and any other airline) would have responded in a similar way. Had American ignored the threat and something had happened on June 1st, they would have obviously been held liable for discarding the information.

The Supreme Court had declined to discuss a similar measure in 2012, whether schools could punish students for social media posts including harassment toward classmates and negative comments about teachers.

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Harry Cheadle of Vice wrote:

"Airlines are prone to hyper-vigilance after 9/11, but does that justify the overreaction to @QueenDemetriax_'s tweet? How can we expect teens to understand what is and isn't illegal speech online when the true threat doctrine is as muddled as it is?"

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I wouldn't call this an example of overreaction. It's one thing to say "I hate my math teacher." But even at 14 years old, there should be accountability for something as severe as threatening to take down a passenger plane. Ignorance can only protect you to a certain extent, especially if your original tweet claims Al Qaida involvement.

The primary instance under review by the court will be the case of Anthony Elonis, who was sentenced to four years in the federal pen for posting threats to blow up elementary schools, harm his coworkers, law enforcement, and violent rap songs directed toward his wife, on Facebook. The Court's decision should finally set a precedent on what types of social media communication can be officially considered threatening and/or punishable under the law.

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