Friday, September 04, 2015

Man in southern MD arrested for a single tweet interpreted as making a direct threat; was this just hyperbole?

A man in southern Maryland (in Charles County) is in jail, held under $250,000 bond, for writing one tweet reasonably interpreted as threatening all “white” people in the town of La Plata, about 20 miles south of the lower Washington DC Beltway.  (The town has an unusual history in that much of it was leveled by an unusual EF4 tornado in the spring of 2002; I’ve been there many times.)  The man’s Twitter account has been suspended.
WJLA (ABC7News) has the story here. (It’s odd that the story is in a “sports” subdirectory.)  The story doesn't say whether there was some specific incident (perhaps involving law enforcement) in the town of La Plata that had angered the speaker, given the context of many reported incidents all over the country regarding police racial profiling and apparent associated misconduct. 
I won’t reproduce the text of the tweet here, but there is possibly some room for saying it is hyperbole, given the use of abbreviation.  (There is an allusion to the Universal horror film “The Purge” which I have actually rented and reviewed, Movies, Dec. 16, 2013 ).  The speaker may have just wanted to communicate personal anger (in terms of “Black Lives Matter”) and not have understood the limits on acceptable ways to say it.  Do they teach this idea in high school English now?
But the story shows that it is possible to be prosecuted and have one’s social media accounts suspended over a single angry post.  A possible sentence after conviction or plea bargain could include being banned from the Internet for a long period.  Electronic Frontier Foundation has even advised speakers to be careful about wording posts or texts as “direct threats”.  It’s a good question how this would play out if it happened in SnapChat.
It wasn’t clear how many people saw it and called police.  It’s also unclear what happens if other users report abuse to the social media company;  the social media company has a judgment to make on calling law enforcement.

Picture: from a June 2014 brief visit to the town. 

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