Case Study: True Threats or Venting? (2015)
Elonis v. United States provides the foundation for a debate on what forms of expression on social media are and are not protected by the First Amendment — and the blurry line in-between.
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- Supreme Court
- Pass out copies of the case study and have students discuss it in small groups. Tell the groups they should attempt to come to a consensus about which position they would take.
- Ask the groups to share out their choice and reasoning. Use the questions below to guide the discussion.
- True Threats or Venting handout (download), one per student or small group
- What are some arguments for his speech being protected by the First Amendment? What are some arguments against it?
- How can you tell if speech posted on social media is meant to be taken seriously? At what point should the government intervene?
- How are Elonis’s posts similar to or different from lyrics of professional rap artists?
- How could a ruling in favor of Elonis negatively impact the lives of people who are harassed and threatened online?
- How could a ruling against Elonis negatively impact online speech?
- How would you balance protecting free expression with protecting people’s lives?