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. icon
    Mr. Smarta** (profile), 22 Aug 2012 @ 4:13pm

    Officer!!!

    "Officer!! I wanna report a crime! Buford called me a 'hampster testicle' on Facebook! Arrest his ass! Charge him with a felony! Have the MPAA pay you the four million dollars it'll cost. They're good for it."

    ...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2012 @ 4:15pm

    Brandon Raub

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2012 @ 4:29pm

    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.


    Yeah. That's what we need. A statute that says explicitly that it's ok to harass people online in ways that we wouldn't tolerate in person. That'll fix the internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Canajun eh?, 22 Aug 2012 @ 4:58pm

    I don't want to hear any threat whether in person, by phone, by texting, or any other way. All of them upset me mightily and I WILL call the police. Probably just a stupid Canadian attitude, eh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    DH's Love Child (profile), 22 Aug 2012 @ 5:52pm

    Um...

    "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?"

    Well, what's wrong is that this would actually force the authorities to, you know, work. That's way too hard for them, but if they just criminalize this, they can arrest more people to make sure they're making their quotas...

    I'm starting to think that living with penguins on Antarctica might be the way to go...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    illuminaut (profile), 22 Aug 2012 @ 6:06pm

    This story makes me so angry that I might just nuke Canada!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2012 @ 6:18pm

    Oh Cananda, you silly, silly land.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2012 @ 6:21pm

    Re:

    Since that's already the status quo, at least it won't break the internet either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2012 @ 6:57pm

    Generalizing instead of separately investigating is a cover your ass strategy for those just in case cases.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Titania Bonham-Smythe (profile), 22 Aug 2012 @ 7:05pm

    Re:

    That'll fix the internet.


    Yours is broken? Try turning it off and back on again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2012 @ 7:08pm

    A threat by any means...

    is a threat! I agree with Cpl. De Jong

    Isn't it a crime here in the US to send a threatening letter through the postal service?

    Pardon my ignorance but I thought it was always a crime, by any means, to threaten to harm someone or something.
    Why would being on the internet make you immune to prosecution?
    I think that if anyone makes a serious threat to harm someone, they should be hauled before a judge to explain themselves.
    Maybe it's someone venting or maybe it's real.
    How would we know?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2012 @ 7:19pm

    Re:

    Did you just threaten me for anything I might say online? JAILTIME!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Dementia (profile), 22 Aug 2012 @ 7:27pm

    Guess I better not tell the Canadians what I plan to do during deer season, or when I'm done fishing for that matter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. 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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    xenomancer (profile), 22 Aug 2012 @ 8:57pm

    a threat is a threat is a threat,
    Take this back or, so help me God, I will spank a monkey!!!

    /imminentphysicalthreat

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    G Thompson (profile), 22 Aug 2012 @ 9:58pm

    *facepalm*

    A threat is only a threat when a it threatens imminent harm that any reasonable person would consider as such.

    Or for a specific definition: a threat is something that must be on its face and in the circumstances which it is made, so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate and specific as to the person threatened as to convey a reasonable gravity of purpose, and reasonable imminent prospect of execution.

    This is whether it is online, offline or whatever. The method of distribution is irrelevant. In fact online is more than likely to result in the element of imminent prospect of execution not being met, similar to threats made via phone services etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Cornholio, 22 Aug 2012 @ 11:13pm

    are u threatening me?

    ....i am the great cornholio!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Zakida Paul (profile), 23 Aug 2012 @ 1:46am

    Threats online should be treated in the same way as threats on the street because a threat is a threat no matter what the arena.

    Jokes (no matter how sick or offensive) should be protected under free speech because free speech is there to protect unpopular speech.

    There is a world of difference between genuine threats and trolls who just want attention but sadly the media and the politicians and authorities are incapable of making that distinction.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Curt (profile), 23 Aug 2012 @ 1:53am

    Re: are u threatening me?

    As punishment for stealing IP, I will not allow you to have any TP. That's not a threat, that's a promise. And also my campaign platform for IP law reform.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    relghuar, 23 Aug 2012 @ 2:29am

    Proportionality, anyone?

    "... threat of death or bodily harm can receive a prison term of up to five years."

    Just a question... how long is the maximum prison term for, let's say, breaking someone's arm?
    Because if I'm gonna get 5 years for both breaking your arm, and just SAYING I [could|would like to|am going to] break your arm - well, my friend, I'm gonna break your arm right now without a single word.

    - Don't worry, I don't really mean I'm gonna break your arm ;-) But I wonder, if it really gets to the point of no difference between saying you would like to do something and actually doing something, how many people will actually bother opening their mouths anymore?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Yawgmoth, 23 Aug 2012 @ 2:44am

    Lets us pray the internet prayer, that Canadian cops never play any game on XBL...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    xenomancer (profile), 23 Aug 2012 @ 4:40am

    Re:

    Amen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2012 @ 6:00am

    Re: Re:

    So you're saying I just need to reach back here and flip this swi...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    relghuar, 23 Aug 2012 @ 6:18am

    Re:

    :-) Good one.
    I wouldn't limit it just to Canadians, though.
    Or to XBL.
    Or to playing games....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 23 Aug 2012 @ 8:47am

    Re: A threat by any means...

    IANAL, but my understanding of US law regarding this sort of thing is that there's a lot of gray area.

    If I make a threat that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their immediate safety, that's assault.

    But if I make a more generalized threat, or a vague one, or just behave in a threatening manner, that isn't necessarily in violating of the law. It depends on the circumstance.

    If I followed you around, or sent repeated threatening messages to you, I may be guilty of harassment or stalking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2012 @ 9:13am

    "Should Making A Threat On Facebook Be A Crime?"

    It shouldn't be less of a crime than doing it in person, in front of a large group of people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Mason Wheeler, 23 Aug 2012 @ 9:49am

    Re: Re: A threat by any means...

    Do not the accused have rights?


    Yep. Specifically, they have the right to a trial. This involves being hauled before a judge.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    btrussell (profile), 23 Aug 2012 @ 5:16pm

    "Should Making A Threat On Facebook Be A Crime?"

    Better question:

    Should unlawful actions be excused because it is done on-line?



    As a Canadian, this is the worst headline I have seen on this site.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2012 @ 5:31pm

    Should making a threat on the Internet be a crime?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    saiyan, 11 Dec 2013 @ 2:39am

    Re: A threat by any means...

    Is it a crime if no one [no individual (s)] was directly threatened? Is it a crime if the threat wasnt made (I.e. spoken, written, emailed, texted, faxed, mailed or carrier pigeon) directly to anyone?
    You said "serious"...what defines a serious threat from ...venting? And if someone made a questionable threat...is it reasonable to arrest them 15 months later...after NO threat was even remotely carried out?
    Police...get a complaint...and charge first. Theres seldom anything more than a cursory investigation.
    So how do we know if its SERIOUS?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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