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Florida Court Holds Threat on Facebook to be “Sent” to Victim

March 22, 2013 |

In Timothy Ryan O’Leary v. State of Florida, the First District held that Defendant’s threat of bodily harm posted to his Facebook page was “sent” under Florida Statute 836.10 (“Written Threats to Kill or Do Bodily Harm”) because it was viewed by Defendant’s Facebook friend who was a family member of the victim.

The court held that the statute is violated when (1) a person writes or composes a threat to kill or do bodily harm, (2) the person sends the communication, and (3) the threat is to the recipient or a member of his family.

Here, Defendant went on a rant about a relative, posting on Facebook that he was “gonna fuck you up and bury your bitch ass. [...]  I’ll tear up the concrete with your face and drag you back to your doorstep.”  The entire post is set forth in footnote two of the opinion.

Without comment, the court deemed this post to be a threat to kill or do bodily harm.

The court held that the post was “sent” since the statute was amended in 2010 to include “electronic communication” and that, by the very nature of Facebook, “it is reasonable to presume that the [Defendant] wished to communicate the information to all his Facebook friends.”

Finally, the Defendant had previously sent a Facebook friend request to one of his relatives, Michael.  At the time the post was made, Michael had accepted the request and was a Facebook friend of the Defendant.  Michael showed the post to another relative, who then showed it to the victim (it appears all persons were related).  The court concluded that Michael was the recipient and the threat was directed at a member of Michael’s family.

Both the trial and appellate court made note of the fact that Defendant’s Facebook page was public at the time the post was made.  It appears the trial court relied in part on the public status of the Facebook page when it ruled on whether the post was “sent.”  In what appears to be dicta, the First District notes that “electronic communications” on the Internet are frequently not direct communications but sent to groups on social media sites.  Thus, this opinion may leave to future cases the specific question as to whether a public post on a social media site is “sent” to a victim.

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Defamation, Facebook

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