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Supreme Court throws out conviction for violent Facebook postings

The Supreme Court on Monday made it harder for prosecutors to convict those who make violent statements on Facebook and other social media, saying it is not enough that an ordinary person would find the rants threatening.

In its first examination of the murky rules regarding conduct on the Internet, the court moved cautiously while throwing out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man whose postings, delivered in rap-lyric style, suggested killing his estranged wife, federal law enforcement officials and even a kindergarten class.

The narrow opinion said it was not necessary to address whether the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech protected Elonis’s Facebook statements. The opinion also declined to take a position on whether it would be enough for a conviction to show that a defendant had been reckless in making inflammatory statements, as Alito proposed.

Paraphrasing the famous holding from Marbury v. Madison that it is the court’s prerogative to say what the law is, Alito said the court was announcing, “It is emphatically the prerogative of this court to say only what the law is not.”

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