Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
social media, threats



Should Making A Threat On Facebook Be A Crime?

from the determining-real-vs.-fake dept

There have been a few instances lately of various mass killings around the world (though certainly not all of them) where those responsible have either left strong hints via their online presence, or have even been pretty direct about their intentions. Of course, at the same time, you have stories like Paul Chambers', where a joke was over-inflated by some law enforcement officials to pretend that it was a threat. Ditto the story of Joe Lipari, who quoted a line from Fight Club on Facebook, and got arrested for his trouble.

So, I find it somewhat troubling that police in Canada seem to think that any threat online or off is a criminal offense. There's been an increase in people charged in Canada for merely making a threat, and some are reasonably concerned that many of those threats are idle chatter on social networks. The article seems to think that there's no good way of dealing with this other than to change the law so that online threats are treated differently than offline threats:
Section 264.1 of the Criminal Code says a person who knowingly utters, conveys or causes another person to receive a threat of death or bodily harm can receive a prison term of up to five years. A person who threatens to damage property, or kill or injure an animal, can receive a prison sentence of up to two years.

Cpl. De Jong said under the Criminal Code “a threat is a threat is a threat,” regardless of how it’s made.

But Bentley Doyle, of the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C., said some sort of distinction should be drawn between online threats and those made in person.

“The more specific you get, the easier it is to actually follow through and charge somebody specifically,” he said.
Of course, rather than separating out online and in-person speech, what's wrong with just looking at the details of the situation, and making a reasonable assessment as to whether the threat is legitimate or just someone saying something stupid? In the cases of Chambers and Lipari above, law enforcement should have quickly realized that neither individual was likely to do anything violent. But if someone is legitimately planning to shoot at a group of people and talking about it online, it seems that, at the very least, that could be worth investigating. The problem is criminalizing the statement, rather than using it as evidence to see if there's actually any real intent to follow through.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2012 @ 7:37pm

    Re: A threat by any means...

    What you just typed, sounds a bit threatening. Why do you advocate "hauling" someone? Do not the accused have rights?

    How would you set what constitutes a threat? Who would have the power to change or determine what consititutes a threat? Could we use a color system like we have for terror?

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