This is just one example, but a pretty stark one we think, of why our lawmakers need to quickly rethink and rewrite some of our laws when it comes to how they are applied to social media.
A three-judge appeals panel in Florida ruled last week that a teen was not guilty of juvenile delinquency despite having tweeted threats of a school shooting on more than one occasion.
“In one post, he wrote: “night f***ing sucked can’t wait to shoot up my school soon,” according to the court. He also tweeted out “it’s time,” accompanied by a picture of a gun being slipped into a backpack.”
He later went on to insist that he was joking (of course), but the fact that he was found not guilty is a serious miscarriage of justice. Even if he was joking, a message should be sent to other students that threats, joking or otherwise, will not be tolerated.
The problem is that the Florida law, originally written in 2013, contemplated written (pen and paper) threats, and principally those made by one person to another. Despite the law being updated in 2010, it still fails to cover broadcast communications of the type made possible by social media. With social media, a user can threaten a person, a school or a whole country.
One of the judges on the panel lamented the poorly written law, and urged legislators to make changes:
“With [social media’s] popularity comes the unfortunate but inevitable problem that social media posts, like any other form of communication, can be used to make threats of violence. But many threats made on social media will fall outside the narrow language of (the law), which was originally written with pen-and-paper letters in mind.”
We should be striving to create schools where threats are exceedingly rare. Punishing offenders appropriately helps move us toward that goal. By cutting down on the number of threats, we would waste less time, cause less stress and have more resources available to investigate credible threats.
It’s time for some changes.
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