Can You Go to Jail for Trolling on Social Media?

Photo of arrestA Dallas man is now in jail for trolling on social media. Babak Taherzadeh claims to have created a character with his online persona, which he frequently uses to comment on political issues and public figures. His was placed in Dallas County Jail after authorities determined he crossed the line between free expression and harassment.

Is Trolling on Social Media Against the Law?

Social media may seem like a place where anything goes, but if messages or comments appear to pose a serious threat they can be criminal. This is how Taherzadeh got himself into trouble. He started commenting negative things about Judge Brandon Birmingham. At first these messages were tolerated, but after a while they became so negative and extreme that the judge started to feel like his life might be in danger. Authorities agreed that the threat was real.

The case was treated especially seriously, since Taherzadeh has faced jail time in the past for sending threating messages. He was arrested in 2015 for sending a text threatening to kill his brother in-law.

Lata Noot, who leads the First Amendment Center, stressed how cases like these can bring out some heated disagreements. In a recent interview with the Dallas Morning News, she noted that there has always been a tension about where to draw the line between harassment and free speech.

The First Amendment protects freedom of expression, which includes the right to say what you want online. However, it is also a crime to physically threaten, stalk and intimidate someone.

What Can We Learn from This Case?

This case is a reminder that actions on Twitter and other social media platforms can have serious consequences. This man claims he never intended for these messages to be read at face value. Whether he is telling the truth or not, it is important to remember that readers will not always understand the context or intent of your communications online. If authorities perceive a threat, they might step in.

Julian, Crowder and Shuster is a firm of Texas criminal lawyers who fight aggressively to defend clients accused of crimes such as theft, assault and drug charges.


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