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Facebook Freedom of Speech or Harassment

The Supreme Court is drawing the line between Facebook Freedom of Speech and Harassment.
ALTOONA, BLAIR COUNTY - The Supreme Court is drawing the line between Facebook Freedom of Speech and Harassment.

Monday the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of a Pennsylvania man who was sentenced to four years in prison for threatening his wife online. Anthony Elonis posted about his ex-wife and said “I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess.”

His lawyer argued that he never actually intended to hurt her and that he was just using his freedom of speech. But the jury convicted him. Now the Supreme Court agreed to hear his argument. Forty-five years ago the Supreme Court ruled that making a threatening statement is not a crime unless there is a "true threat" with intent to follow through.

Cyber bullying is a major issue locally and people here are following this case to see where those lines are being drawn. Technology experts say people still feel like that they can say anything they want online and get away with it, but this case could answer that question.

Bill Latchford is a local internet safety advocate. He doesn't think the internet should change people's rights. And he thinks online harassment should be treated the same way criminally as in-person.

Nancy Dybus says she's been the victim of online harassment. Someone online said things that made it hard on her family. Now she wonders what people are thinking and what they have read online when they look at her.  

She tried going to the police but there wasn't a lot they could do. Attorney Tom Dickey says it's a complicated legal issue to decide between freedom of speech and harassment. It involves the exact words said, how they’re said, and if the statement was made out of anger.

In 2009, charges were dismissed against his client who had sent a threatening letter to then Governor Ed Rendell. His client sent Rendell a letter saying he prayed someone would kill him. The judge decided that was a freedom of speech issue.

Dickey says each case has to be looked at individually and closely and if someone is charged just because of words and no actions there is a case to be made for the 1st Amendment.

But Dybus wants someone to have the authority to step in before the harassment gets so bad people do something drastic.
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