Does Facebook Think Some Threats Are More True Than Others?

You may also like...

24 Responses

  1. Jeff Gamso says:

    First question: Why would you expect them to be coherent and consistent?

    But a few possibilities do spring to mind, not about whether one or another is a true threat as case law defines the term (none of those you've posted strike me as satisfying that standard) but as to why there may be more concern about the Obama poll. In no particular order:

    1. For all the open hostility to Bush during his years as President, there seemed to be less a view that he was personally evil than that Obama is. Despised, reviled, hated, yes, but personally evil, no. (And, of course, if you killed Bush, you got Cheney, which wouldn't likely cheer the would-be assassins.) I think it was Turley who tracked down the poll showing that some 13% of the voters in New Jersey actually believe Obama to be, personally, the AntiChrist.

    2. As the Kennedyesque figure, Obama seems assassination worthy in a way that Bush didn't. Remember, during the primary campaign Hillary Clinton actually suggested at one point that Obama would likely be assassinated if he were elected.

    3. A generalized sense that these days the right-wing nuts are more likely to be armed and inclined to shoot than the left wing nuts.

    So none of this addresses your particular question, but when has government (the Secret Service) or business (Facebook) actually been consistently coherent?

  2. Scott Jacobs says:

    "and the people who are very upset by this poll, think that some Facebook threats are more true than others?"

    Why must you ask such rhetorical questions?

    Re #2 from the above comment: Dude, seriously? There's a reason I call Biden "Obama's Life Insurance"…

  3. strech says:

    I think it was Turley who tracked down the poll showing that some 13% of the voters in New Jersey actually believe Obama to be, personally, the AntiChrist.

    It was 8%, 13% "not sure", and 5% of Obama voters. (PPP pdf). And hell, I'd be tempted to say "Yes" to a poll asking if pretty much any politician was the antichrist, and I doubt I'm the only one, so I wouldn't take those numbers seriously.

    While I don't think our eager reporters in this case would have reported the Bush pages, I'm not sure Facebook's actions can be tracked in the same way. It's a matter of publicity – the Obama poll got it, those groups didn't. And now they're old and stale.

  4. Linus says:

    Can anyone articulate a principled reason…

    And your quest was doomed to failure. There is no principled reason.

    or all the open hostility to Bush during his years as President, there seemed to be less a view that he was personally evil than that Obama is. Despised, reviled, hated, yes, but personally evil, no.

    This was not my experience of the years 2000-08. Although, to be fair, Cheney got the "he eats babies" charges more than Bush did.

    Whether Obama is more likely to be assassinated than Bush was, whether because he is Kennedy-esque(which may have been seen as a compliment, but I wouldn't) or otherwise, is kind of beside the point. The question is, is there some principled reason that a friggin' FACEBOOK poll is more dangerous, or a more credible threat when applied to Obama than to Bush. I don't see how that can possibly be true, seeing as how we are dealing with a friggin' FACEBOOK poll. A POLL. On a website which is by gum saturated with polls such as "Which Jane Austen character are you?"

  5. Chris says:

    I wouldn't be at all surprised if they weren't reported to the Secret Service. They're groups with very few members, and I'd be surprised if the Secret Service was logging into facebook and searching for "kill bush".

  6. Dave (ND) says:

    We killed Jesus once. We can't make the same mistake twice.

  7. mojo says:

    "Kennedyesque figure"

    Oh, please.

  8. Kryten says:

    You wrote LOL in lowercase letters!! How could you?!

  9. Windypundit says:

    Ken is contacted by the Secret Service regarding threats to the president in 5…4…3…2…

  10. Max Power says:

    I think this poll, for whatever reason, attracted a lot of public attention while these other groups didn't. If these groups got some media/blog face time, which they might thanks to your blog, I think they will be taken down.

  11. Fat Freddy says:

    First of all, not so much the person who created the poll and posted it, but the people who actually voted "yes" [the president should be killed].

    As to why the "threats" against BHO are taken more seriously than GWB. Well ,let's see. We've been swinging black folk from trees for many years in this country. Not so much, anymore, but this is American, and we have a rich history.

    [Aryan Nations link deleted]

  12. Ken says:

    THanks Freddy, but you can make the point without actually linking to the Aryan Nations from here, please.

    Let me make sure I have you right. You think that it is — or should be — illegal to say certain things about some presidents but not others? Or are you saying that whether it is legal, or illegal, depends on the skin color of the President?

    Can you find any cases, Freddy, that support the notion that the "true threat" test depends on the level of opposition to the President in question? (Hint: if you read Watts, you'll find the opposite — that the prevalence of overheated rhetoric makes it less likely that a particular statement can be reasonably interpreted as a true threat.

    Second, do you think that voting "yes" on a poll asking "should Obama be killed" is reasonably interpreted as a serious expression of intent that the person voting will harm the President? Really?

  13. Paul Baxter says:

    I have no idea what the relevant laws, precedents, etc. are, but it wouldn't bother me in the slightest if any sort of public speech (print or otherwise) using unambiguous language advocating the killing of the president were to be illegal. I don't see how any good would be removed from public discourse by such a principle.

    Then again, I'm not a person who is comfortable with rights language in general, so I'm a bit out of the mainstream on american political philosophy all around.

  14. Ken says:

    I have no idea what the relevant laws, precedents, etc. are, but it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if any sort of public speech (print or otherwise) using unambiguous language advocating the killing of the president were to be illegal. I don’t see how any good would be removed from public discourse by such a principle.

    All killings, or only some killings? What about "George W. Bush should be extradited to the Hague, tried, and executed?" What about "If President Glenn Beck did rape and kill a girl in 1990, he should be impeached, tried, and executed?"

    Also, is it your position that this poll was unambiguous language advocating the killing of a President? If I start a poll, does that mean I unambiguously advocate one possible answer?

    Then again, I’m not a person who is comfortable with rights language in general

    I'm not sure what that means.

  15. DevilDan says:

    Thanks for all this guys. After reading through dozens of comments on the "Junior Secret Service Agent" blogger Gotta's site, I was feeling fairly despondent, downright depressed, in fact. This site is like a refreshing bath that helps wash away the "stupid."

  16. Fat Freddy says:

    Ken
    Let me make sure I have you right. You think that it is — or should be — illegal to say certain things about some presidents but not others?

    No, I was just trying to point out why some threats should be taken more seriously than others with respect to our "history". I doubt any of it rises to the level of criminality. I remember a radio show host who got into a lot of hot water a while back for telling people to stop paying their taxes. I think it was Irv Homer in Philadelphia.

    Second, do you think that voting “yes” on a poll asking “should Obama be killed” is reasonably interpreted as a serious expression of intent that the person voting will harm the President? Really?

    Of course not. At least not in and of itself. We are talking about investigating and not prosecuting, right? And as far as Free Speech, it was a privately owned site.

    There is a case in NJ pending which is similar. Here's the link to a Libertarian Blog about it. The person made the statement, and then also posted names, addresses, and phone numbers. I'm not comfortable at all, with this one.

    http://www.reason.com/blog/show/134367.html

    Are you? It should be an interesting case.

  17. Ken says:

    Freddy, as I've said, I have no problem with the Secret Service investigating, so long as they obey the strictures of the Fourth Amendment (which allows them to show up, ask questions, ask for consent, review public records, etc.).

    It sounds as if we are on nearly the same page. Yes, the Turner case is a troublesome one. I think Jacob Sullum is right that it is properly analyzed as incitement rather than threat. I'm not sure I agree with him that the incitement is not sufficiently immediate. I'd have to see all the facts (like the proximity of releasing addresses to saying "they should be killed," for instance) to know.

  18. Ken says:

    See update in post.

  19. Fat Freddy says:

    Ken,

    Obtain search warrants, question friends, family and employers, subpoena bank records??? Would it be OK for a judge to sign off on a search warrant in this case? It starts getting a little hairy. Personally, I think this entire thing is a giant case of pure stupidity. And if stupidity were against the law, these guys would get life sentences. I find it difficult to defend stupidity that rises to this level.

  20. Ken says:

    Freddy:

    No to a warrant, because I don't think that there's probable cause that it's a true threat, and therefore no probable cause to think that a warrant will yield evidence of a crime. Yes to interviewing friends, family, and employers who are willing to talk — that doesn't implicate Fourth Amendment rights, and the government is free to ask questions of whomever they want so long as they do so voluntarily.

  21. astonied says:

    Ken for the most part I understand and agree with you. But I will also say (on a totally different track) I do believe that while the law may allow you to do something it doesn't mean it is prudent or nice to do it. For instance, the law may allow me to run around naked on Black's Beach but it would be a cruel thing to do to my fellow Americans (yet a wonderful thing for the makers of Viagra whose sales would surge by the populace that saw me…another words they would then need the services of the drug after that scary site) AM I making a point? I guess not.

    Well really I do have a question. So what happens if this person's employer were to find out they did this poll of FB and all of a sudden this person was out of a job? When you post such polls are you taking some sort of risk besides the gestapo hauling you off to some secret location in say, Cuba?

  22. Ken says:

    Update: note that the Secret Service investigated and determined that the person who posted the poll was a child and that, reasonably, no charges will be brought.

    Most people would recognize this as a phenomenon of ancient provenance: "kids are assholes." I expect reaction to be "OMG rightist rage has warped teh chiiilldreeen."

  23. Ken says:

    I do believe that while the law may allow you to do something it doesn’t mean it is prudent or nice to do it.

    I have zero disagreement with that. And the way we point that out is with speech, a social sanction against imprudent and not-nice behavior.

    So what happens if this person’s employer were to find out they did this poll of FB and all of a sudden this person was out of a job? When you post such polls are you taking some sort of risk besides the gestapo hauling you off to some secret location in say, Cuba?

    What happens if the person is out of a job? That's an employment law question. It depends on the nature of the employer-employee relationship — to summarize an extremely complex and varied field to the point of being unhelpful, some employees may, in some circumstances, have protection from being fired for speech activity like this. [A complete answer to your question, with all the possible scenarios (private vs. public employee, contract vs. no contract, different jurisdictions, etc.) would take hours and hours.

    Suffice it to say that in many circumstances an employer could fire an employee for posting that poll. I don't have a problem with that, at least for private employees.

  24. Bob says:

    Hahaha. .the first few comments on that CBS article all say "kid? what like 16? then he's a terrorist" and "lock up the parents."