A Child’s Right to Free Speech On the Internet

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There is always somewhat of a disconnect between lawmakers, prosecutors, judges, and modern society. Nowhere has that been more apparent to me than the recent case where a Texas child who is currently in jail faces an eight year prison sentence because of a threatening joke in an online game.

Two things stand out here. First of which is the lesson for young people (or even old people!) that while you may feel like you are escaping reality while playing online, reality has a way of finding you. The online world is becoming increasingly LESS anonymous, and that trend is likely to continue. While the internet used to be a haven for free speech (even dangerous and vile free speech), the increasing ease of tracking people online has caused an increase in prosecutions for crimes committed in the online world. In this situation, the term “crime” is somewhat loosely applied, but it has applicability to other areas as well, and it is important for EVERYONE to be mindful of their actions.

The second thing is more obvious, and that is another example of overzealous prosecution. I am assuming (perhaps wrongly) that the reason this is being pursued is the borderline hysteria over school shootings, however, the context of these things needs to be considered. If you subpoenaed a chat log of a single day of chat for this particular game, you would likely find MANY incidences of even more vile and threatening things being said. Either we determine as a society that ALL of these incidences are worthy of jailing people, or none of them. The idea of selectively prosecuting things like this is completely arbitrary at best, and malicious at worst, and leaving those decisions up to prosecutors seems like a recipe for disaster, when clearly the prosecutors in this case don’t understand sarcasm in the slightest (something I have been accused of in the past, but this is over the top even for my sarcasm radar).

That said, lets hypothetically change the facts here a little bit. Lets assume this was a serious threat, and Mr. Carter admits that he got extremely agitated and seriously threatened to shoot someone, or a whole school, but made no actions to further this and had no ability to carry it out. Does that still constitute a terroristic threat? Honestly, I am not sure as its not really my area of expertise, but my thought would be that at the very least there has to be some reasonable ability to carry out a threat. If someone insults my mother and I threaten to blow up a car with my laser eyes, should I go to jail for that (mental health issues notwithstanding)?

Honestly I am not sure. I think my initial advice to everyone though about staying careful is the best plan though, as apparently all it takes to ruin your life is one offhand comment made online to the wrong person.

 

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Mr. Hutton is a Divorce and Custody Lawyer based out of Round Rock, TX. His background is with child psychology at Arizona State University where he received a B.S. in 2006, and he continued this by working with the Children’s Right’s Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law where he received his J.D. in 2009. Throughout his practice, he has been a strong proponent of utilizing modern technology to improve his practice and the representation of his clients. He currently is the technology chair of CAFA of Travis County and is committed to improving and modernizing the practice of law in Texas.

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