Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What does current supreme court free speech case bode for Wrongplanet.net and its members

There's a story in the news that's been gaining some traction as of late that has piqued my interest.  It is about an individual named Anthony Elonis, a former amusement park worker, who wrote lyrics in the form of rap poetry threatening to kill his estranged wife as well as an FBI agent who questioned him on Facebook.  There are federal laws against making such threats and Elonis was prosecuted and convicted.  He is now going before the Supreme Court stating that these laws against posting idle threats that he did not intend to carry out violate his first amendment right to free speech and are therefore unconstitutional.  Elonis claimed that these weren't actually threats but were in fact rants he was making in order to blow off steam and that a reasonable person would not believe these were actual threats.  His attorney, John Elwood gave these as arguments.  From what I've read, SCOTUS won't render a decision on this matter probably until next summer, but based on their responses to Elwood, they don't appear to be ruling in Elonis' favor.  Hopefully they will render a verdict that threats such as these don't constitute free speech protected under the first amendment.  

Does this sound familiar to the few regular readers of Autism's Gadfly?  It should because one poster on wrongplanet.net did something very similar. Like Elonis, this person gave a similar rationale for his actions, stating it was only a rant to blow off steam and not an actual threat.  Apparently this person was not an American, but lived in Switzerland where the laws may be different.  He was apparently questioned by authorities and may have been subject to prosecution from what I gathered from reading what he said.  If he were in the U.S.A. he probably could have been prosecuted under the same laws that Elonis was.

In another instance, an individual named William Freund  posted on Wrongplanet that he was going to hurt some people.  These were not idle threats, but Freund actually carried them out and murdered two people.  Alex Plank and whatever other persons were responsible for running things at Wrong Planet neglected to report this individual to the authorities.  If they had, lives may have been saved.  I was the one who reported the second individual to the FBI and that is probably the only reason the Swiss authorities were investigating him.  This individual has not been banned from Wrong planet but is still a member in good standing.

I doubt very much that Facebook or any other website that Elonis posted such things would allow him to do so.  Yet Wrongplanet is fine in being complicit with illegal activities and not reporting actions such as these to law enforcement authorities and allowing them to continue to do so and allowing people who violate federal laws to be members in good standing.   

I believe that not only is it possible there will be a third such incident (assuming there have not been others that I don't know about) but I suspect based on the type of people who post on Wrongplanet it is highly probable that there will be.  I'm not sure what the law is, but I wonder if Plank or anyone else involved in the day-to-day administration of Wrongplanet can be prosecuted for complicity in these things.  I know that Plank and Wrongplanet were sued by the family of the persons Freund murdered, but I don't know what the outcome of the suit was, whether Plank settled with the family or whether or not a judgment was rendered and I'm not sure what Plank's and WP's liability is in such a circumstance.

However, I believe something should be done about this.  I'm not sure I have the time and inclination to monitor WP for such posts, but I believe this website and it's administrators should be watched.  I hope the Supreme Court won't allow this to be constitutionally protected free speech.  I am in favor of the first amendment and free speech, but I believe a line should be drawn somewhere and threats such as these should not be called "rants" or be constitutionally protected.

I can only hope that law enforcement authorities will be watching Plank and his buddies on WP.  If there is no law where these people can be prosecuted for this stuff, I hope that congress will enact one and if it happens again Plank and other staff members of Wrongplanet will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of that law.

However, this does not seem to be the case.  Plank was a keynote speaker at ASA, Autism Speaks funded his and John Robison junior's inane videos, he was also a consultant on the defunct TV show The Bridge.  Plank continues to bask in glory despite his misdemeanors.  I'm not sure I understand this, but I hope if  the SCOTUS does not render a favorable verdict in this case, that it won't bode well for Wrongplanet and individuals who write posts such as these and something will be done.  


w ford said...

I agree threats are not freedom of speech neither is false advertising both have been repeatly struct down for decades by courts. I have only read wrong planet once and did not like it.

Anonymous said...

Edonis was attacking a particular individual multiple times, and then added an FBI cop. The two WP people only made one statement and didn't indicate a particular target. WP are not in any trouble.

Joseph D. Smith said...

How are they 'threats' when the lyrics weren't even sent to the individuals? They do have the freedom of speech, just as long as the lyrics are just an expression of their frustration.

Rants are protected by the U.S. Constitution! I believe that the First Amendment gives us the unabridged freedom of speech, no matter how racist or hateful! Freedom is the only good. Even if I hate what you say, I will defend your right to say it.

jonathan said...

Joseph, threats of violence even when directed at a general person are still threats and are not protected by the first amendment. I will also defend someone's right to express their own ideas, but there are limits such as the old saw about yelling fire in a crowded theatre. The FBI did take that one WP indnividual's threats seriously and he was subpeoned by the authorities in his own country. I'm sure the authorities would have liked to have heard about William Freund and if WP had not been so lax, two lives may have been saved.