Storm clouds blow over the United States Supreme Court as the sun sets over Washington, D.C. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will hear Monday the first amendment case of Anthony Elonis, a Pennsylvania man imprisoned after rap lyrics he wrote on Facebook were classified as threats.
Elonis, then 27, is accused of threatening his estranged wife by posting violent messages on his Facebook page in 2010, after she left him and took their two children.
One of the messages read: ''Fold up your PFA [protection-from-abuse order] and put it in your pocket. Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?" A jury found the message, written after his wife got a restraining order, was a threat.
Elonis, now 31, says he was just blowing off steam in the style of the rap music he enjoys to listen to. He cites Eminem as one of his influences.
Elonis wrote the posts, which he called lyrics, under the hip-hop pseudonym "Tone Dougie," and referred to himself as an aspiring rapper. He also posted messages/lyrics about attacking a school and an FBI agent. A jury found him guilty of making threats and he served three years in prison.
He's now asking the Supreme Court to overturn the conviction. He and his lawyers say there are bigger issues at stake than just Elonis' particular case and others concur on the broader focus. They say that free speech rights on social media are at the heart of Elonis' case.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Student Press Law Center and the PEN American Center say in an amicus brief that social media has changed the way Americans communicate.
"Internet users may give vent to emotions on which they have no intention of acting, memorializing expressions of momentary anger or exasperation that once were communicated face-to-face among friends," they wrote. "[T]he uninhibited interaction, discussion and personal revelations facilitated so powerfully by social media also implicates speech that may be unsavory or even distressing to some recipients, but this is precisely the type of speech the First Amendment is designed to protect."