Sadly, we now live in a society where innocent comments offend people. Over the past year, police in several states arrested people after readers on social media took posts or comments out of context and reported them.
A recent example involves a school teacher preparing for a conference. In an online post, she mentioned her excitement about going and “blowing the place up.” What she meant was that she had an incredible plan in place to wow those in attendance. After someone reported her comment, the police arrested her for making a terrorist threat.
According to the First Amendment, people have freedom of speech. The problem is that, with increasing crime within the U.S. and abroad, online users need to think twice about what they post. Just like this teacher, a simple comment could be enough to get the attention of law enforcement.
The fact is that police around the country now rely on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others as viable crime-fighting tools. While there is nothing wrong with that in the eyes of most people, it has led to some sticky situations.
While the First Amendment does allow free speech, it does not mean that someone can inflict pain or do harm through words. With an increasing number of comments posted online getting taken out of context and leading to arrests, the question is what an individual should do when faced with that scenario.
Most importantly, they need to hire a qualified attorney. With laws on the side of the police, anyone facing this scenario needs to secure legal counsel immediately rather than trying to diffuse the situation themselves.
The attorney will first consult with the individual to get an understanding of what the words meant and what they intended the comment to do. Depending on the case, a lawyer may be able to quickly show there was zero harm in the message and its intent; in other words, someone took the person’s words other than intended. A lot of that will come back to two things: character and criminal record.
If a person is an upstanding citizen who has never had a run-in with the law, there is a good chance of getting the charges dropped. On the other hand, if some has had a few brushes with police and a history of being antagonistic online, they can expect a more challenging battle ahead. Even then, the prosecution must prove that the comments were literal rather than just an expression.
A Note to the Wise
Many people have “snarky” personalities, meaning they love to joke around and often speak without filtering what they say. When it comes to posting comments on social media, while perhaps unfair, individuals need to think before posting. If something innocent gets said but taken out of context, that person needs a reputable attorney on their side. If you find yourself in this legal mess, select an attorney with experience and expertise dealing with this type of case.