Are Retweets Terror? Missouri Woman’s Arrest Raises Free Speech Questions

Prosecutors Say Retweets Signal Active Support for ISIS

by Jason Ditz, August 12, 2016

With a lot of issues surrounding Internet-based communications yet to be litigated, the implications for the First Amendment could be vast. The latest legal test case for this is ongoing in Missouri, where 39-year-old Safya Roe Yassin has been arrested on terror charges.

The terror charges are centered on Ms. Yassin’s Twitter account, and her retweets of several posts which officials say are linked to ISIS. That she retweeted ISIS texts, prosecutors say, amounts to “active support” for ISIS and that she made “threats” by reposting the threats.

Her lawyers argue that reposting of the putatively illegal posts simply amounts to “reporting someone else’s statements,” and does not amount to a crime in and of itself. The relative newness of Twitter, however, makes the legal argument unclear.

Still and all, this case could have broad implications for the state of free speech as it relates to Twitter and other social media in which publicizing another person’s statement is possible. Government eagerness to crack down on ISIS speech on Twitter is well established, but whether it means they can jail people for tangential relation to the posts is uncertain.

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