Around the world, governments are struggling to pin down the repercussions of boundary-pushing online speech, whether it's a Facebook post mocking a repressive regime or a racist Tweet. As it becomes easier to share opinions online, it's also easier and easier to get caught saying the wrong thing.
Dec 24, 2014
Days after the shooting of two New York City Police Department officers, the FBI has announced the arrest of a man who allegedly posted YouTube comments about hunting down and killing police. Yesterday, the Colorado District Attorney's office said it had detained 33-year-old Jeremiah Perez, who is accused of transmitting an online threat in retaliation for the death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. On December 17th, Google notified the FBI about a Google+ account called "Vets Hunting Cops," which had commented on a YouTube video. The comment said that since Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Brown in August, "our group" had killed six retired sheriffs and police officers and would "hunt two more in Colorado this week."Read Article >
Dec 23, 2014
Your Instagram friend could secretly be a police officer, and that's totally legal, at least in New Jersey. In an opinion from earlier this month, district court judge William Martini responded to a request by Daniel Gatson, who is accused of running a lucrative jewelry theft ring that was busted by the FBI in 2013. Among many other requests to suppress evidence of cellphone location data, seized physical evidence, and phone conversations, Gatson asked for the court to throw out his social media history: namely, pictures from a private Instagram account, which law enforcement officers had accessed by creating a fake account and friending him.Read Article >
Social media, especially places where people might feel safe enough to post secrets, have become a standard tool for law enforcement. In 2013, the NYPD shut down an illegal gun-selling operation after seeing pictures of weapons and cash on Instagram. Prosecutors have used tweets to show intent in murder charges, and Facebook messages were central to a New York gang raid last year. In some cases, the information was public. In others, though, it was restricted to friends, so police had to either find informants or actively create fake accounts and gain a suspect's trust. This might not be a complicated process: it's not difficult to make someone think you have friends in common. But they're still gaining information under false pretenses, and defendants have sued on those grounds, saying it constituted an invasive search.
Mar 13, 2014
A 20-year-old Los Angeles man has been arrested after he allegedly threatened to shoot someone walking down the street in exchange for 100 retweets on Twitter, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The Los Angeles Times reports that the man, Dakkari Dijon McAnuff, posted a photo on Twitter showing a rifle pointed out at the street with the caption "100 [retweets] and I'll shoot someone walking."Read Article >
After being alerted to the photo, police tracked McAnuff down at his home in downtown LA and arrested him on suspicion of making criminal threats. An air rifle was found at the home, the Times reports. McAnuff's Twitter account has been deleted.
Feb 22, 2014
Threats made on social media are coming back to haunt those that make them in countries around the world. As reported by The New York Times, a 21-year-old woman named Alba González Camacho has been convicted in Spain of inciting terrorism using a social media network. The conviction comes after González Camacho was arrested for posting messages on Twitter calling for a left-leaning terrorist organization to kill politicians.Read Article >
"I promise to tattoo myself with the face of the person who shoots [conservative Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy in the neck," González Camacho reportedly posted on Twitter. She also implored the notorious terrorist organization know as the Grapo to return and assassinate politicians in the company. While the Grapo is considered to have lost most of its capabilities since killing more than 80 people in the late 70s and early 80s, the judge ruled that any glorification of terrorism was against the law — even if the group itself isn't currently believed to be a threat.
Dec 16, 2013Read Article >
Back in July, feminist activist and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez successfully campaigned to get Jane Austen's image on the £10 bill — and unwittingly became a major target for trolls on Twitter who sent Criado-Perez all manner of abuse and threats. The UK police made arrests following the outbursts, and now the AP reports that two individuals have been formally charged with "improper use of a communications network." Two other suspects will not be charged, and a fifth continues to be under investigation. Since the outburst, Twitter rolled out an easier way for users to report abusive tweets — something Criado-Pereze she was receiving at rates up to 50 times an hour. There's no word on what kind of penalties the charges carry if the defendants are found guilty yet
Sep 19, 2013
China is moving quickly to put its strict new anti-defamation laws to use. Chinese police have detained a teenage boy for allegedly posting an inaccurate rumor online, barely a week after the new laws were first revealed, reports Quartz. The laws are meant to target libelous online rumors, and can hold their writers liable should they reach some sort of viral scale. China's standard for what's viral, however, is distinctly low: an inaccurate rumor needs to be reposted just 500 times or viewed just 5,000 times for its writer to potentially be charged with defamation.Read Article >
The teenager was detained for writing about a suspicious death and claiming that the victim had died of police brutality rather than a head wound from a fall as had been claimed, reports Quartz. "The police didn't act," the teenager reportedly wrote on the Twitter-style service Sina Weibo. "Worse, [police] quarreled with the crowds and even beat up the relatives of the deceased." Though none of the teenager's posts were said to have crossed the 500 repost mark, Quartz notes that he apparently did misidentify a person in one of his comments, allowing it to be considered clearly inaccurate.
Aug 16, 2013
A series of tweets have helped upgrade a California resident's vehicular manslaughter charge into a charge of murder because of their morbid tone. The Oakland Tribune reports that 18-year-old Cody Hall received the initial charge late last month for allegedly hitting and killing a bicyclist with a speeding car. But prosecutors have now managed to elevate the charge partially because he had allegedly invited his followers to "come on a death ride with me," tweeted that he'd driven 140 miles per hour on an interstate highway, and retweeted the phrase "drive fast live young" (which appears to be lyrics from a recent Tyga song) — though the remarks may not have coincided with the incident in question.Read Article >
It isn't uncommon for social media posts to prompt criminal charges — the Tribune even reports that prosecutors' use of Hall's tweets is legally similar to using a handwritten letter. Whether it's appropriate in this case is another question: Hall's tweets may fall outside the scope of what's generally used to upgrade a charge to murder. Usually, recklessly fleeing police or driving intoxicated after a prior DUI conviction can lead to an upgrade, reports the Tribune, making tweets a distinct standout. The prosecution may now use the tweets in an attempt to prove that Hall acted with malice.
Aug 12, 2013
Arrests based on threats made on Twitter or Facebook are nothing new, but they've happened less frequently in the US than in the UK or other countries. Later this week, however, a former college student named Caleb Clemmons will go on trial for a "joke" post he made on his Tumblr back in February. According to Gawker, Clemmons was arrested after making a Tumblr post that said he planned to "shoot up Georgia Southern" (his college) the next day. It went on to ask people to "pass this around to see the affect it has. To see if I get arrested." Within a few hours, Clemmons was tracked down and arrested, and he's been in jail awaiting trial ever since — he was unable to make the $20,000 bail set after his arrest.Read Article >
While the threat seemed fairly clear and the arrest unsurprising, what's happened since then has been the subject of some controversy. A police investigation found no evidence of any plans to attack the school, and Clemmons owned no guns or any other weapons. In fact, a letter from Georgia Southern University's dean noted that the student body was never alerted because there was "no continuous threat."
Jul 29, 2013
A 21-year-old Manchester man has been arrested in conjunction with rape threats and other harrassment following the Bank of England’s decision to put novelist Jane Austen on the £10 note. Journalist and activist Caroline Criado-Perez led the successful initiative to get more women on British currency, only to face a stream of abuse and threats on Twitter — up to 50 in a single hour. A spokesman from Scotland Yard said that "the arrest is in connection with an allegation of malicious communications received by officers in Camden on Thursday, July 25," reports Sky News.Read Article >
Following the wave of harrassment, many have called on Twitter to make similar incidents easier to report, with an online petition for the service to add a "report abuse" button garnering over 50,000 signatures since its creation. Criado-Perez is also calling on Twitter and law enforcement to treat the threats with the importance they deserve. "It’s just not acceptable, and more than that it’s actually a crime and Twitter needs to take it seriously and the police need to take it seriously," she said.
Jul 27, 2013
Putting novelist Jane Austen on a British banknote might seem like a harmless gesture, but in recent days it's been the cause of rape threats and a possible Twitter boycott. At the center of it all is Caroline Criado-Perez, a journalist and feminist campaigner who has led the charge to get more female faces on England's currency (in addition to the Queen, who graces every bill). The campaign just scored its first victory with a new £10 note featuring the Pride and Prejudice author, announced this week for rollout in 2017. But not everyone's happy with the campaign, and Criado-Perez has faced a flood of abuse on Twitter from disgruntled trolls, many threatening rape or other violence. At the height of the abuse, Criado-Perez reported receiving 50 rape threats in a single hour.Read Article >
Jul 9, 2013
Back in February, a British man was arrested for making anonymous Facebook posts claiming he planned to kill "at least 200" people at a school in Tennessee, and now the BBC is reporting the man will receive a prison sentence of more than two years for the threats. While it appears that 24-year-old Reece Elliot of South Shields, UK, had no designs on actually carrying out his threats, the highly specific nature of his Facebook posts warranted the jail term. Elliot joined a Facebook page that was set up as a tribute to a student at Warren County High School who died in a car accident and essentially began trolling — he insulted the student and then posted a message saying he planned to steal his dad's guns, kill him, and then kill as many people as he could before killing himself.Read Article >
Because of his threats, more than 3,000 students were kept out of school in Warren County, with local officials immediately putting the schools on lockdown. From there, the local law enforcement worked with Homeland Security to track down Elliot, who will now have to serve 28 months in jail. Surprisingly, the judge said he took into account Elliot's early guilty plea and "genuine remorse" when handing down the sentence. It's much different than what happened recently to a UK man who posted an exasperated tweet that he would "blow the airport sky high!" He was arrested and convicted but eventually had the conviction overturned on the grounds that his tweet was clearly tongue-in-cheek rather than being truly menacing. However, Elliot's threat was far more explicit and detailed — and clearly caused serious concern. Given his guilty plea, it seems unlikely that Elliot will try and appeal the court's decision.
Jan 9, 2013Read Article >
On Sunday night, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service raided the home of a Venezuelan suspected of spreading rumors about president Hugo Chávez's health on Twitter. The intelligence service suspects that the cousin of a prominent Venezuelan opposition member, Federico Medina Ravell, runs the @LucioQuincioC Twitter account. To the government's chagrin, @LucioQuincioC has claimed that the president, who was flown to Cuba for emergency cancer surgery about a month ago, will not recover in time for his inauguration ceremony this Thursday. Last week, an official health bulletin revealed that Chávez developed a severe lung infection following the surgery, and it's no surprise that rumors about the president's well-being have cropped up to fill the dearth of information. Ravell was not at home at the time of the raid, but the offending Twitter — which may even be run by multiple users — has not been stifled by the events.
Jan 7, 2013
Much has been said about social media's role in the Arab Spring and other protests around the world. But in many places, 140 characters of dissent is still all it takes to land you in prison.Read Article >
Rashid Saleh al-Anzi, an online activist in Kuwait with 5,700 Twitter followers, was sentenced to two years on Sunday for writing a tweet in October that a Kuwaiti court claims "stabbed the rights and powers" of the country's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. The comments came in close proximity to demonstrations in October against changes to Kuwait's election rules which led to a significantly decreased voter turnout. Anzi is expected to appeal, but is being forced to begin serving his sentence before any further proceedings can take place.
Dec 19, 2012
The UK has announced new guidelines that could see less social media users prosecuted under the country's abusive speech laws. Director of public prosecutions Kier Starmer, in comments reported by the Guardian, said that authorities should take "considerable caution" not to impact free speech by bringing unnecessary charges. While the Crown Prosecution Service is keeping the door open in cases that could be seen as serious harassment or credible threats of violence, situations where the perpetrator immediately shows remorse, for example, are likely to be handled with a lighter touch.Read Article >
The UK has handled a number of controversial cases dealing with social media users that have posted inflammatory content. A student was jailed for drunkenly posting racist abuse on Twitter following the televised collapse of a black soccer player, for example, and one man went through a two-year prosecution ordeal after jokingly tweeting that he would blow up an airport that closed due to bad weather. Another was arrested for posting a picture of a burning poppy on Facebook.
Sep 28, 2012
Reuters is reporting that Google has complied with the requests of Brazilian authorities to pull a political attack video from YouTube. Earlier this week Judge Flavio Peren ordered the company to pull the clip on the grounds that it slandered mayoral candidate Alcides Bernal. Google refused, leading to the arrest yesterday of Fabio José Silva Coelho, Google's president of operations in Brazil. Coelho was released after questioning.Read Article >
In an emailed statement to Reuters, the executive said that "Despite this, we will continue with our global campaign for liberty of expression, not just because it is a prerequisite for a free society but also because more information generally means more schools, more power, more economic opportunities and more liberty for people." Under Brazil's 1965 Electoral Code, ads that personally attack candidates are banned.
Sep 25, 2012
A Brazilian judge has ordered the arrest of Google's president of operations in Brazil over a pair of YouTube videos that the court says slander mayoral candidate Alcides Bernal. According to the Associated Press, Judge Flavio Peren ordered Google to remove the offending videos last week, but Google refused, leading Peren to issue a warrant for the arrest of local president Fabio Jose Silva Coelho and order YouTube and other Google services blocked for 24 hours. Google is reportedly appealing the decision, saying that it's not responsible for content posted on its site. Police, meanwhile, say they haven't yet received orders to arrest Coelho.Read Article >
The controversy over these ads echoes that over the trailer for Innocence of Muslims, an anti-Islam piece that has sparked protests worldwide. If popular outcry exists in this case, it's much more muted, and the video below has gotten only about 8,000 views since late August. Still, the videos — which allege that Bernal instigated abortions among other charges — have pitted Google's relatively liberal policy guidelines against local laws. Local outlet Midiamax reports that Google reviewed the videos and found that they did not constitute negative electioneering or warrant taking down; it apparently petitioned the judge's order for removal last week. We've reached out to Google for comment, and we're likely to see more developments in the next few days.
Feb 3, 2012Read Article >
A South Korean man could be facing up to seven years in jail for retweeting messages from North Korea. Park Jeong-Geun, 24, broadcast the message "Long Live Kim Jong-il," which originated from @uriminzok, an account that the North Korean government has been using since 2010. Mr Park, however, is a member of the Socialist Party of South Korea, known for its anti-North views, and claims he was acting in satire. Amnesty International is calling for his release, accusing the South Korean government of "failing to understand sarcasm," in a country where the National Security Law makes praise of its isolated, communist neighbor a criminal act. The @uriminzok account is frequently retweeted by Korean users, though, meaning incidents like this may become increasingly difficult to police.