Can you vent anger about your ex-spouse on Facebook, quote song lyrics that appear threatening, and get away with it?
That is the issue before the Supreme Court of the United States.
After Anthony Elonis's wife left him, took their children and secured a restraining order, Elonis decided to share lyrics from an Eminem song on Facebook and direct his post toward his ex-wife.
One interpretation is that he was simply venting his anger. However, his employer decided it didn't want an employee who threatened people on Facebook and fired him.
Four years ago, a jury convicted Elonis of violating 18 U.S.C. Section 875.(c), which criminalizes interstate transmission of communications that threaten to injure another person. (The Facebook post is considered an interstate transmission.)
The jury in that case sentenced Elonis to 44 months of prison and three years probation.
But was Elonis using Eminem lyrics to threaten his wife? Or was he merely expressing his frustration in general? That's what the Supreme Court will need to decide.
Elonis Case Started with These Lyrics in His Post
The Facebook posts in question include these lyrics from Hip-Hop megastar Eminem:
- "(There are) enough elementary schools in a 10-mile radius to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined, and hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a kindergarten class."
- "I'm not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts."
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was quoted as saying, "This sounds like a road map for threatening a spouse and getting away with it."
The lawyer for the Justice Department, Michael Dreeben, was quoted as saying: "There are plenty of ways to express yourself without doing it in a way that will lead people to think this guy is about to hurt somebody."
Meanwhile, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor expressed concerns about First Amendment implications, our guaranteed right to free speech.
Facebook, Divorce and Unhappy Marriages - Yes, They're Connected
A new report from ScienceDirect.com explores the relationship between using social media networks, marriage satisfaction, and divorce rates.
The results indicated that social media use correlates with marriage quality and happiness, and also correlated with people contemplating divorce.
Facebook was particularly troublesome.
Eight Parameters for Using Social Media During Your Divorce
Here are my recommendations:
- Take a break from social media during your divorce. If you work for an Internet-based enterprise, post on your employer's networks but not on your own.
- If you must use Facebook, don't post any information about your divorce process, your spouse, your children, your custody battles, or your fight for spousal support.
- Never post anything you wouldn't want a future or current employer to see. (Employers routinely scan employees and applicants' social media profiles.)
- Self-reflect before your self-reveal. Refrain from being overly personal in your posts. Instead, post inspirational messages. These are popular on social media.
- Don't write a status update when you're mad or feeling emotional. Put your smartphone or tablet away and return to your social media sites when you're feeling more hopeful, or at least far less depressed.
- Refrain from posting images of your children. What you post online is searchable on the Internet. It's best, whether you are in the middle of a divorce or considering one, to refrain from posting information about young children on the Internet. This is also true even if you're not going through a divorce.
- Refrain from using social media to chronicle your life, especially during a divorce. Some people like to use Facebook as a diary. This is a dangerous practice when you're going through a divorce.
- Remember that what you post on social media can and will be used against you during your divorce proceedings
If you have additional questions, check my website for further resources or contact a licensed, family law attorney.