Sharing Eminem Lyrics, or Threatening Ex-Wife on Facebook? Supreme Court to Decide

Did Pennsylvania Facebook user Anthony Elonis do what many users of the social network do and share lyrics from a musical artist, hip-hop superstar Eminem, or was he threatening his ex-wife? The U.S. Supreme Court began arguing a case Monday that could have wide-ranging implications on the use of Facebook and other social networks.

SupremeCourtNight650Did Pennsylvania Facebook user Anthony Elonis do what many users of the social network do and share lyrics from a musical artist, hip-hop superstar Eminem, or was he threatening his ex-wife? The U.S. Supreme Court began arguing a case Monday that could have wide-ranging implications on the use of Facebook and other social networks.

According to GigaOM, the Supreme Court will likely render a decision in January or February.

Elonis served three years in prison for his 2010 Facebook posts, GigaOM and Bloomberg both reported, saying that after his ex-wife left with their two children, and he lost his job at an amusement park in Allentown, Pa., he posted Eminem lyrics and related vents to Facebook, including:

  • “(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.”
  • Visualizing his ex-wife’s “head on a stick.”

In Monday’s arguments, Justice Samuel Alito said, as reported by Bloomberg:

This sounds like a road map for threatening a spouse and getting away with it.

Chief Justice John Roberts cited lyrics from Eminem song “97 Bonnie and Clyde,” and asked Department of Justice lawyer Michael Dreeben whether those lyrics were protected “because Eminem said it instead of somebody else,” according to Bloomberg, and Dreeben replied that the rapper “said it at a concert where people are going to be entertained.” Dreeben later said:

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.

Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor expressed concerns over First Amendment implications, Bloomberg reported, with Sotomayor saying:

We’ve been loath to create more exceptions to the First Amendment.

Elonis’ lawyer, John Elwood, said during the arguments, as reported by Bloomberg:

Under the government standard, any sort of speech that uses, you know, forceful language or violent rhetoric could potentially be at risk.

Readers: How do you think the Supreme Court will rule (or should rule) on Elonis vs. United States, 13-983?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.