Proposed law would make online threats a felony

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - State law has not kept up with written threats, but that could soon change.

Legislation that cleared a committee in the state capitol Wednesday would make broad threats on social media a felony.

In the age of social media, violent threats made online have become all too common. One out of ten internet users reports being the victim of online threats and more than a third of threats against public schools are made over the internet.

"I mean, we've seen instances where people have posted things and then they've gone and actually did a bad act," explained Representative Stan McClain.

But unless a threat was directly sent to a person, law enforcement can't investigate.

Legislation approved by a committee in the capitol would make it a felony, with up to 15 years in prison, for sending threats on social media. The legislation is aimed at credible threats, but there are concerns.

"We cannot illegalize people acting stupid," said Representative Julio Gonzalez.

Which could lead to people becoming felons for a post made in a moment of poor judgment.

"We want to make sure that we protect the rights of individuals so that they don't have to get into an incredibly long and perhaps protracted and difficult situation just because they engaged in an activity although ill-advised shouldn't rise to the level of even being suspected of being criminal," said Gonzalez.

Law enforcement says threats will be investigated, and it's up to investigators to determine if charges are appropriate.

"We're going to look at all the factors, who it was, what kind of history has there been, what kind of a threat was made, what's the ability of that person to carry those threats out," explained Casselberry Police Chief Larry Krantz.

Even if a person is charged, prosecutors will have the final say if a felony conviction is the appropriate punishment for the specific crime.

If signed into law the changes would take effect on July 1st of next year.