Today the parties in Elonis v. United States will present their oral arguments to the Supreme Court. Anthony Elonis was convicted after he threatened his wife and others with extremely graphic and gory postings on Facebook. The issue before the Court is whether he actually intended to threaten them, or a reasonable person would think the statements were threats.
Elonis started with posts of rap lyrics and other comments which he claimed were “jokes” that were protected as free speech, and gradually worked his way to more violent and graphic posts. The Court’s decision could have important long-term impact on legal implications for what is posted online, especially on social media. Several excellent blog posts on Gawker, Forbes, and the Supreme Court of the United States’ blog go into more detail on the legal aspects of the case.
Cyveillance has seen many similar instances of online threats while providing corporate security and monitoring services. Many times, threat actors use social media as a free soapbox to rant about their views on corporate executives or an organization’s services. Sometimes, as in the case of Elonis, the posts gradually build from benign threats into more specific threats of harm. For example, he or she may start by posting “I am thinking about hurting you” to “I found your travel itinerary on a blog, I know where you will be, and I will be waiting.” Monitoring the Internet, including social media, for such threats is key. In addition, conducting regular threat assessments to see if and how executives may be at risk is invaluable.