P. Brooks Fuller, a second-year Ph.D. student and Roy H. Park Fellow in the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, has had an article accepted for publication in the Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal (Comm/Ent). The article, “Evaluating Intent in True Threats Cases: The Importance of Context in Analyzing Threatening Internet Messages,” will appear in the Fall issue of Comm/Ent. The journal is published by the University of California’s Hastings College of Law and is among the best-known law reviews specializing in communications law and policy issues. The article is based on a research paper written for one of the J-School’s graduate media law courses. Brooks also presented his research earlier this month at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in Montreal, Canada.
Brooks’ article examines federal courts’ treatment of Internet threats in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Virginia v. Black. The full abstract is below.
Following the Supreme Court’s most recent ruling on the true threats doctrine, Virginia v. Black (2003), significant conflict emerged among the federal circuit courts. The primary issue is whether an objective or subjective standard should apply to statutes that criminalize threats. Speakers’ use of social networking websites and Internet forums for the purposes of posting violent and intimidating communications raises significant questions regarding the posture of the true threats doctrine and its application to modern modes of communication. This paper utilizes legal research methods to examine federal courts’ treatment of Internet threats and highlights aspects of Internet speech that are particularly problematic for the doctrine. Ultimately, this paper calls for the Supreme Court to revisit the true threats doctrine in light of significant inconsistency among the circuits regarding the impact of the Internet on recipients of threatening communications.