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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Opinion

Media threats need to be treated more seriously


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Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

As social media becomes more prevalent, with it comes the question of what can be done when men and women receive threats or harassment online.

The Supreme Court’s silence is concerning for the 40 percent of people who have been harassed online.


“Rape,” he said. “rape sounds good.”

I received this disturbing message earlier this week from a stranger. It was not the first time I’d ever received a message like this through social media. Friends of mine have received random revealing photos, being subjected to harassment that continues for days and more. It’s almost commonplace.

According to a 2014 Pew Research survey, women who are 18 to 24 year old are significantly more harassed.

Forty-seven percent of people responded by confronting the person, 44 percent (myself included) blocked or unfriended the person, 22 percent reported the person to the website, and five percent reported the person to the law enforcement.

Empowered and masked by anonymity, disturbing people share their crude messages. Types of harassment include physical threats, sexual harassment and stalking or harassment over a sustained period of time.

Unlike popular belief, they go beyond simple comments.

Last year, Anthony Elonis’ wife filed a restraining order against him after he posted several threats on social media. He didn’t stop.

“Fold up your protective order, and put in your pocket. Is it thick enough to stop a bullet,” he said online a week after filing the restraining order.

Victims have described their experiences that are often life-threatening.

“I was threatened and told that if I stopped communicating with this man, that he would find me and rape me,” one victim said.

One thing more disconcerting than being on the receiving end of these messages is the fact that little or nothing can be done about them.

The courts have clear standards in determining which types of actions qualify as harassment, battery, and assault. But less clearly understood are the threats and harassment found on social media. For those who use social media daily, this is an important distinction that needs to be made.

Should people be accountable for the words they post online, and if so, to what extent?

There are a few laws in place regarding social media. According to the Texas Penal Code § 33.07, it is illegal in Texas to engage in online harassment using another’s identity and soliciting from a minor. These laws, however, do not address the threats and harassment many face when using social media.

According the Pew Research Center, “At a basic level, there is no clear legal definition of what constitutes ‘online harassment.’ Traditional notions of libel, slander and threatening speech are sometimes hard to apply to the online environment.”

Essentially, it comes down to the reasonable person standard. If a reasonable person would feel sincerely threatened by an action, then an individual may be held accountable for this action in the court of law.

In June,the Supreme Court made it more difficult to prosecute threats and harassment on social media. The Supreme Court recently overturned the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who posted rap-like lyrics that suggested he intended to kill his estranged wife, federal law enforcement officers and even a kindergarten class.

But the court has avoided making a clear distinction on the legitimacy of threats on social media.

If people can make verbal threats, online threats need to be treated exactly the same.

Assistant opinion editor Sarah Kim is a political science major senior and may be reached at [email protected] 

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