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Facebook, the world’s electronic fishbowl, was the subject of arguments Monday before the U.S. Supreme Court about what constitutes a legal threat on the popular social media platform.
Local authorities say the case is important as the law tries to protect people from physical and emotional harassment.
The court’s ruling could come this summer.
Anthony Douglas Elonis, 31, of Lower Saucon Township, Pa., appealed his 44-month prison sentence for postings on Facebook four years ago. He was convicted of a federal law that makes it a crime to “transmit in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another.” He was convicted of five counts.
Elonis put messages on Facebook in the form of rap that threatened his estranged wife and an FBI agent.
“We would take the threat as to how the victim viewed it,” said Capt. Dominic Ossello, public information officer for the Western Kentucky University Police Department. “It would be as if someone would be standing face to face with the victim.”
He said the university police department has no control over what WKU students post on Facebook or what is posted about the university.
John Elwood, Elonis’ attorney, argued before the high court that the jury that convicted Elonis must not only determine a reasonable person would interpret the messages as a threat, but also that the man intended the words to be a threat. Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald disagreed with Elonis’ contention that the messages were no more dangerous than explicit rap song lyrics. Fitzgerald said Elonis’ estranged wife perceived the threats as real.
“The degree of difficulty has always been what is the intent” of the person, with the key being “how did the victim take it?” Ossello said. “The court reviews both sides.”
Lawyers for Elonis said his posts in the form of rap lyrics under the pseudonym “Tone Dougie” were simply a way for him to vent his frustration over splitting up with his wife, The Associated Press reported Monday.
“I think he (Elonis) is trying to use his free-speech rights,” said Krisstal Clayton, an assistant psychology professor at WKU. “There are problems with cyberbullying, and people worry about stalking. He was trying to get at her any way that he could.”
The government argued the real test is whether his words would make a reasonable person feel threatened. In one post about his wife, Elonis said, “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts,” the AP reported.
“How does one prove what’s in somebody else’s mind,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was on the bench five days after she had a stent implanted to clear a blocked artery, the AP reported.
“As far as threats are concerned, we don’t deem a threat on social media any less serious than a threat in person,” said Officer Ronnie Ward, spokesman for the Bowling Green Police Department. “Most laws are written broad enough to cover electronic and traditional means.”
Ward said harassing communications (Kentucky Revised Statutes 525.080) and harassment in general (KRS 525.070) cover threats made either way.
Justice Antonin Scalia questioned whether Elonis’ comments about causing physical harm in the context of a marital dispute deserve First Amendment protection. He said the government’s standard “doesn’t eliminate a whole lot of speech at all,” the AP reported.
Elwood argued that Elonis had a disclaimer on his Facebook page that his comments were only for entertainment purposes. But Justice Samuel Alito seemed skeptical, the AP reported.
“This sounds like a roadmap for threatening a spouse and getting away with it,” Alito said.
The Obama administration says requiring proof that a speaker intended to be threatening would “undermine the law’s protective purpose,” the AP reported.
Song lyrics, as potential threats on social media, have received protection under the First Amendment, at least in Kentucky.
Last month, charges were dismissed against James E. Evans, 31, of Muhlenberg County, after Evans spent eight days in jail for posting violent song lyrics on his Facebook page, according to AP. Evans had been charged with terroristic threatening.
The lyrics posted by Evans on Facebook were from the song “Class Dismissed (A Hate Primer)” by California band Exodus. The American Civil Liberties Union said the post was free speech protected by the First Amendment.
First-degree terrorist threatening carries a potential jail term for up to 10 years upon conviction. Evans was arrested and jailed Aug. 26 and released Sept. 3.
The Supreme Court last looked at the question of a person’s intent in 2003, when it reviewed a Virginia law that regarded cross burnings. The court ruled cross burnings could be viewed as criminal intent if the intent to intimidate was proven, according to published reports.
By Chuck Mason
Bowling Green Daily News
Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler is expected to propose a 62 percent increase in the amount of money the agency spends annually to wire schools and libraries with high-speed Internet connections, Edward Wyatt reports for The New York Times. The move would increase the FCC's annual cap on spending for school Internet from $1.5 billion to $3.9 billion. (NYT photo by Mark Holm: FCC chairman Tom Wheeler)
The move would most benefit rural areas, where "seven in 10 rural districts say none of their schools can meet high-speed Internet connectivity targets today," Wyatt writes. "Schools in affluent areas are three times more likely to meet speed targets as those in low-income areas, the FCC says."
"Libraries need upgrades too, and in low-income and rural areas, they are important because they often provide the only available Internet connection for many people," Wyatt writes. "Yet half of all public libraries report connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second. Mr. Wheeler has said 25 megabits per second should be considered “table stakes” in 21st-century communications."
"The new spending would lead to an increase of roughly 16 percent in the monthly fee on consumers’ phone bills," Wyatt writes. "The fee is used to finance the Universal Service Fund, an $8.7 billion effort that provides phone and broadband connections for low-income populations, rural areas, and schools and libraries."
"FCC officials say consumers would pay less than $2 a year in additional fees per phone line, or less than $6 extra per household, on average; currently the average household pays about $36 a year," Wyatt writes. "But the amount an individual household pays can vary widely, with fees assessed on both home and mobile service. Businesses pay into the program as well." (Read more)
Written by Tim Mandell Posted at 11/18/2014
Monday morning outside West Kentucky Community and Technical College's Emerging Technology Center, Samsung Mobile set up shop in a 100-foot technology-integrated mobile classroom full of Raspberry Pies.
A Raspberry Pi (pronounced just like the dessert) is a low-cost, credit-card sized computer that plugs into a monitor or TV and uses a standard keyboard and mouse. Samsung assembled a small fleet of these tiny circuit boards, connected them to a fleet of Samsung Chrome Books, and extended an open invitation for local students to use the devices and learn computation and programming skills.
WKCTC was Samsung's first stop along its Samsung Mobile U Tour, an initiative designed to target community and technical college students and spark their interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.
"We do a number of STEM education support programs, but this program really stands for our vision to grow more homegrown engineers," said Cindy Chang, Samsung marketing manager.
"These students who graduate with engineering and technical degrees, they could ultimately become our future employees. It completes this pathway of support," she said.
The mobile classroom was open Monday to all students at every skill level. The program offers three curriculum routes: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Beginners can learn more about the general nature of how computers work, as well as the basic principles of computer programming.
"Coding is something that, if you haven't been introduced to it, can be very intimidating," Chang said. "But it doesn't have to be."
Students who take the intermediate route get to build their own program and modify the source code of existing games built in Python to change how the games work in real time. Python is an increasingly popular computer language used to build applications like Dropbox.
Advanced students are given the opportunity to create a web server on the Raspberry Pi and create and host a website on that server.
The national need for STEM skills is great, and is only expected to grow. Jobs in computer systems design and related industries are expected to grow by 45 percent by 2018, according to the National Math and Science Initiative.
In a 2011 report exploring the economic value of various college majors, Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce found that of their 15 college major categories, engineering led to the highest median earnings. Despite that figure, the study found that less than 20 percent of students choose a STEM path in school. "This is an exciting thing for us to have," said WKCTC President Barbara Veazey of Samsung's mobile classroom. "For our students to see that a bigger job - like a job with Samsung - is a real possibility for them is huge. This is Samsung's first time to highlight the importance of the community college and STEM education as a pathway to a great job."
Veazey explained that WKCTC's Emerging Technology Center was built in hopes of remedying a very real problem - a lack of technically skilled workers.
"It didn't happen overnight," Veazey said. "It was a deliberate recognition of a need and a problem. We tried to address it as a community, and we did."
Both Chang and Veazey said they hope the Samsung Mobile U initiative will spark more student interest in STEM career paths.
"It's just amazing, isn't it?" said Tammy Potter, WKCTC dean of business and computer-related technologies. "Wednesday and Thursday we have almost every time slot filled with CIT (computer information technologies) and engineering students. I know they're really excited about learning to work in Python. For our students to see this type of technology is very exciting, because it gets them out of the classroom and enables them to see something new."
The Samsung Mobile U crew has prearranged class sessions with WKCTC students for Wednesday and Thursday, but said they won't turn anyone away. The mobile classroom, parked in front of the Emerging Technology Center, will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
BY GENEVIEVE POSTLETHWAIT
The Paducah Sun
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2014;
President Barack Obama said on Monday that because the Internet is as important in Americans' lives as electricity and telephone service, it should be "regulated like those utilities to protect consumers," Edward Wyatt writes for The New York Times. Obama said the Federal Communications Commission should make this change to keep broadband companies from slowing down legal content or allowing content providers to pay extra for a fast lane.
This discussion is especially important for rural areas, many of which do not have adequate broadband access to begin with. Also, innovation and start-ups can be particularly beneficial to rural people, so considering whether this change would promote that is important.
Many see the president's move as support of Tom Wheeler, F.C.C. chairman, who is working on a plan to protect open Internet—called net neutrality. "The debate may hinge on whether Internet access is considered a necessity, like electricity, or more of an often-costly option, like cable TV," Wyatt writes. Netflix, Democrats in Congress and consumer advocacy groups are the move's primary supporters, but leading providers of Internet access, Republicans and some investment groups do not like the idea and say this regulation is too heavy-handed and will hurt online investment and innovation.
Companies that make routers and servers, represented by the Telecommunications Industry Association, said they "strongly urge regulators to refrain from reclassification that will guarantee harm to consumers, the economy and the very technologies we're trying to protect." Senator John Thune of South Dakota said the effort "would turn the Internet into a government-regulated utility and stifle our nation's dynamic and robust Internet sector with rules written nearly 80 years ago for plain old telephone service."
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell sent a statement in response to Obama's announcement about the regulations. He wrote that the Internet currently allows innovators to create and sell products people like and makes jobs "without waiting around for government permission." The President's decision "to abandon this successful approach in favor of more heavy-handed regulation that will stifle innovation and concentrate more power in the hands of Washington bureaucrats is a terrible idea. The Commission would be wise to reject it." (Read more)
Written by Melissa Landon Posted at 11/11/2014
Nov. 4, 2014;
MOREHEAD, Ky.---The Kentucky Innovation Network office at Morehead State University will host a conference titled “Growing the Broadband Economy in Eastern Kentucky, Monday, Nov. 10, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Morehead Conference Center.
Everyone agrees that rural Appalachia needs a high speed, broadband internet network to create a new economy in eastern Kentucky. But once the network is built, how will it best be utilized? This question is especially important when it comes to creating more businesses and jobs in the region.
The goal of this meeting is to tackle one of the hottest topics in Appalachian Kentucky today: high speed internet and the way in which it can grow our region’s economy.
The conference, which is open to the public, will cover a variety of subjects and also will show entrepreneurs how the web can help grow their businesses.
Web development: companies and organizations will receive a free web assessment to determine if they should be on the web or if they need to improve an existing web presence.
Coding academies for youth: Eastern Kentucky has a real opportunity to create an emerging workforce of website, app and software developers. Kevin Smith, a founder of Rural Up, an emerging software academy for youth, will talk about this organization’s work to get young people excited about coding.
High speed food tourism: New attractions focused on food tourism are taking root across eastern Kentucky, including food destinations, entertainment venues, farm-to-table models, trail towns and more. Too often, these attractions lack a strong web strategy that can draw in customers from other parts of the country. Jessica Robinson, owner of Print + Pixel, a web development and marketing company located in Morehead, will discuss proven models that link local venues to a global customer base through the power of the internet.
The Potential for ISPs to Grow a Digital Economy: ISPs (internet service providers) have a major stake in seeing the internet economy grow. The more demand for their product, the greater and more reliable their customer base. How can ISPs work to increase demand for broadband services? Are there new services and revenue streams they can create that will bring new customers onto their grid? These questions will be discussed.
Thinking Big about the Space Economy: In Morehead, one of the biggest players in the high speed internet economy is the emerging space industry, centered on the Morehead State University Space Science Center. Whether it’s building satellites, navigating them in orbit, or pulling data from them as they circle the earth, the internet is vital to the center’s efforts. The space program also is beginning to spin off new businesses.
What is the potential for this emerging, web-based economy in a small place like Morehead? Dr. William Vartorella, a respected futurist, will present some of his ideas in a presentation titled "Exploiting the New Space Economy: Cryptocurrency, CubeSats, and Atypical Consortial Alliances in a Rural Broadband Setting."
SpaceTemp: With all the talent that’s being developed at MSU in the space industry, students now have the potential to work with space science companies located anywhere in the world. One of the MSU Space Science Center’s top students will propose a new business model that will allow these students to be a part of a temporary staff for space companies across the globe. By harnessing the power of the web, MSU students will be able to bridge the geographic divide and ultimately create global connections that will bring the growing satellite industry one step closer to eastern Kentucky.
With high-speed internet nearly at our fingertips, now is the time to figure out how to use it to build a new economy in eastern Kentucky. This event is a good place to start.
Additional information is available by contacting Johnathan Gay, director of the Kentucky Innovation Network office at MSU, at 606-783-9536.
Media Relations Director
Morehead State University