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Digital life complicates an already difficult question: How can authorities tell the difference between hateful words or threats that contain empty threats and threats? words can lead to violence?
My colleague, Nicole Hong, who writes on law enforcement and criminal justice, said it was never easy to draw this line, but the social media has produced countless rhetoric about itself. treatment and dangerous threats. That has challenged the police and the legal system in the United States to categorize what are simple words and what red flags a credible threat.
Nicole spoke to me about how law enforcement assesses online threats and what may have changed following the US Capitol riots in January.
Shira: What is the line between constitutionally protected speech and illegal threats?
Nicole: One question is whether those words incite violence or not. Another problem is: If you threaten someone with violence, would a “reasonable person” consider it a serious threat?
I imagine most people who post hostile or threatening messages online don’t act on them. But sometimes posts are a harbinger of violence, as we’ve seen with some serial killers and those who believe in the QAnon conspiracy theories. How do law enforcement and the criminal justice system tell the difference?
Law enforcement has actually struggled with that for a long time, and it’s only getting tougher with social media.
When there are threatening words online, law enforcement officials can wait to see if someone takes specific action, such as ordering bomb material or an unrelated crime that gives them a chance. interfere or not. Or law enforcement could talk to the person about the online threat.
When online threats cross the line from protected speech to crime there is a largely unresolved area of the law and there are a lot of people on the internet saying violent or threatening things.
Is part of the challenge that some people are more likely to post a threatening message online than intimidating a member of Congress or a school principal over the phone or in person?
Right. Law enforcement sources have told me that there has been an exponential increase in online threat rhetoric. Look at any social media site and you can see how overwhelming law enforcement is when it comes to finding out who is at risk of real-life violence and who is just raging.
Should law enforcement do more about it threat of violence online before the Capitol attack in January?
There are plenty of articles that heralded what would happen, but it is still unclear whether there are individuals who should have been arrested solely for violent rhetoric.
Americans defend the constitution for political speech. And many in law enforcement told me that posting broad threats – for example, breaking into the Capitol or turning an election – most likely wasn’t specific enough to justify a arrest.
All are complicated. Now some people in Congress, law enforcement and the public are asking whether more should be done to monitor or stop people first. Law enforcement officials have told me that the Capitol attack left them less willing to wait to see if someone threatening to commit violence online could track it down.
Friend Written This week is about a man in New York who threatened members of Congress after the Capitol riot but disobeyed and is currently criminally prosecuted. Is that an example of lowering the limit on threats?
It’s not normal for someone to face criminal charges that revolve around speech, and that’s why I want to write about it. A similar case in 2016 ended without conviction for a man in Orange County, California, who blogged about beheading FBI members. He said it was a sarcastic speech and constitutionally protected.
In this new case, the man’s lawyer said that he had never bought any weapon or searched for a weapon on Google, he had no plans to commit violence and that no one did so instead. his face. We’ll see how the jury measures all of that.
Even if someone may not have the intention of causing physical harm, verbal attacks can still cause a feeling of intimidation towards that person.
Sure. That shows how the limitations of the law differ from the real life of those targeted.
The government has very high rules for prosecuting people and depriving them of their liberty for saying threatening things on the internet. Law enforcement tries to target the most specific threats of violence. That leaves no impact on a huge universe of rhetoric that makes people fall victim. That would shift the burden on internet companies to be better cops on their own.
Before we go …
People validated, but their message did not: Facebook has regulations to prevent people from faking their identities online to coordinate and distribute messages. BuzzFeed News reported on the company’s review after the Capitol attack found that the focus on fake identities has prevented Facebook from taking action against the people who actually worked together to go viral. false information about the election.
Deceived by a chain on the steering wheel: By using weight chains and tape cassettes, Consumer Reports engineers easily cracked a Tesla feature that is supposed to prevent people from using driver assistance technology without anyone sitting. on the driver’s seat. The car drives itself on the closed test track. This would be illegal and dangerous on public roads.
Turn the tables on criminals. A college student who is a computer security researcher discovered a glitch in the payment system used by hackers that locked people’s computer systems for ransom. Some people have been able to get their computers back without paying the criminals, CyberScoop reported. (Reminder: “Ransomware” is bad.)
Hunter, a puppy in the Chocolate Lab, slumped on the floor to report. Today is Friday. All be Hunters.
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