Social media posts about schools: How to distinguish threats from expression

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Social media posts hinting at another possible school shooting have been spreading nationwide, creating fear on numerous campuses including two schools in the Las Vegas valley.

Investigators say they have discredited the so-called threats, but these incidents show how quickly posts can create mass panic.

Clark County School District Police say this year alone, they have investigated 25 threat-related cases, but most of them have not been credible because they’ve originated from out of state.

But the viral posts are creating conversations about distinguishing free speech from threats.

“People can say horrible things; they can do horrible things under the first amendment,” said Amy Rose, Legal Director, ACLU of Nevada. 

The ACLU of Nevada says it’s important for users to understand the difference between free speech and threats.

“The law says if it’s not something that’s going to happen directly to someone, if it’s not directed at an individual or isn’t going to incite immediate harm, then there’s not a lot that the government can do to punish someone,” Rose said.

A student at Silverado High School told 8 News NOW he left campus after seeing what was perceived as a threat on Snapchat.
  
It turns out the post was originated out of Ohio, and that student was arrested, CCSD Police said.

The ACLU says it’s important for parents to talk to their children about what they post on social media, along with why they’re posting it.

“They can also be held responsible for the things they say; sometimes in a very serious way,” Rose said.

It’s also important for students who share and repost or repost to make sure they’re not adding commentary that could make them part of the panic.

“Just the act of sharing by itself is not an issue,” according to Rose. “You would have to look at why this person is sharing it; what else are they doing and what are they saying and what the context is around it.” 

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