Legislation making social media threats a felony moves forward

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By: Jake Stofan | Captiol News Service
October 25, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- State law hasn't kept up with written threats, but that's about to change. Legislation that would make broad threats posted on social media a felony offense has cleared a committee in the state capitol.

In the age of social media, violent threats made online have become all too common. One out of ten internet users report being victim to online threats and more than one-third of threats against public schools are made over the internet.

"We've seen instances where people have posted things and then they've gone and actually did a bad act," said state representative Stan McClain.

But, unless a threat was directly sent to a person, law enforcement can't investigate.

Legislation approved by a committee on Wednesday would make sending threats on social media a felony with up to 15 years in prison.

The legislation is aimed at credible threats, but there are concerns.

"We cannot illegalize people acting stupid," said Representative Julio Gonzalez.

Which could lead to people becoming felons for a post made in a moment of poor judgement.

"We want to make sure that we protect the rights of individuals so that they don't have to get into an incredibly long and perhaps protracted and difficult situation just because they engaged in an activity, although ill-advised, shouldn't rise to the level of even being suspected of being criminal,” Representative Julio Gonzalez said.

Law enforcement says threats will be investigated and it's up to investigators to determine if charges are appropriate.

"We're going to look at all the factors - who it was, what kind of history there has been, what kind of a threat was made, what's the ability of that person to carry those threats out," said Casselberry Police Chief Larry Krantz.

Even if a person is charged, prosecutors will have the final say if a felony conviction is the appropriate punishment for the specific crime.

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