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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Convictions Pile-Up for Crimes Using Twitter

The United States, the United Kingdom, and now Spain make-up the short list of countries that have courts in which an accused is convicted and sentenced to jail for making a threat via Twitter.  In each of these cases, free speech over the Internet is pitted against law enforcement attempts to identify and contain terrorist threats.

In January, a Columbus, Ohio man was sentenced to 16-months in federal prison for violating the law against threatening to harm or kill the President by tweeting a series of death threats.  In the U.K, also in January, a pair of malicious female tweeters received jail sentences for tweeting vulgar threats from dozens of fake Twitter accounts to a feminist activist [who succeeded in getting Jane Austin's image placed on a Bank of England note].

In Spain, a 21-year old student, Alba Gonzales Camacho, was convicted for tweeting an invitation for the long-dormant terrorist group Grapo, to assassinate Spain's Prime Minister.  The Spanish constitution prohibits speech that glorifies terrorism.

Ms. Camacho's unfortunate reference to Grapo, the terrorist group active in the '70s and 80s, thought to be responsible for dozens of assassinations, remains a touchy subject in Spain ever since fascist dictator Francisco Franco's regime ended in 1975.  The young student's tweet was a call to arms for Grapo to shoot Spain's conservative Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy in the neck; she said in a series of tweets that she would tattoo the image of the Grapo assassin on her body.  

In sentencing her to a one year [suspended] jail term, the Spanish judge did not seem to care about Grapo's decades of inactivity.  Per the Spanish constitution, and similar to the Twitter threats that landed the Westerners in prison cells, the judge took the death threats against the country's leader very seriously.

These cases illustrate the enforceable limits on expressing your thoughts and ideas through the social media.  If your expressions constitute a terrorist threat, then you risk jail if the prosecutor can make a case.  

It is not surprising to us here at the Law Blogger that such cases have forced social media into the courthouse.  As with other forms of media, the limits of our free expression make for some great court cases.

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