I was saddened recently to see yet another arrest of a high school student for making a threat on social media. You may not have known this, but the Florida Legislature has made it a crime to cyber-bully, or to make threats to harm a person or a school through electronic communication. A lot of social media posts, including Instagram and snapchat can form the basis of a criminal charge. Florida Statute §836.10 provides that any person who writes or composes and also sends or posts any electronic communication containing a threat to kill or to do bodily injury to another person commits a 2nd degree felony, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in State prison.

The verbatim language of the statute is as follows:

(1) Any person who writes or composes and also sends or procures the sending of any letter, inscribed communication, or electronic communication, whether such letter or communication be signed or anonymous, to any person, containing a threat to kill or to do bodily injury to the person to whom such letter or communication is sent, or a threat to kill or do bodily injury to any member of the family of the person to whom such letter or communication is sent, or any person who makes, posts, or transmits a threat in a writing or other record, including an electronic record, to conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism, in any manner that would allow another person to view the threat, commits a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

With the increase in school shootings across the country, law enforcement has to take every one of these types of threats seriously. They cannot afford to judge which of these may be a joke or which is a deliberate threat, so they must take them all as threats to our safety.

Like any other media which reaches the public there is a responsibility to use it wisely. (Can you imagine someone using a newspaper or a TV show to threaten another person?) In order to combat the unintended consequences of social media misuse you should make your child(ren) aware and debunk the myth that what they send is only between them and the other person. The truth of the matter is that with the enactment of this law, anything that they put out into cyberspace for someone else to see can be documented, reproduced, and used as evidence against them in a court of law.

Electronic platforms are known as Social Media— not Anti-Social media. These platforms should be used to foster relationships, share great experiences with friends, keep people informed, and keep up with interesting people; not to threaten people from a distance. Don’t let the next child arrested for making written threats be your child. Talk to your child(ren) about their social media use. I’ve heard many parents say to their child “I’m not here to by your friend, I’m here to be your parent.” When it comes to social media you may want to literally be their ‘friend’ or “follower”. What better way to be aware of their ‘avatar’ or ‘digital presence’ that they are known by to the rest of the world.

Marc Dwyer is a Partner at the Law Firm of Chiumento Dwyer Hertel Grant and specializes in Marital and Family Law.

This month’s Anecdote: An ounce of Prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Marc Dwyer