Can a person be held criminally responsible for “Retweeting” another person’s content, or is such communication protected under The First Amendment’s “Free Speech” language? Communication in our electronic world is bending a number of legal concepts into strange new shapes.


Consider Safya Roe Yassin, a 39-year-old citizen that was recently arrested for conspiracy and transmitting threats over state lines.  Her alleged crime?  Retweeting twitter posts from a third party that contained the message “Wanted to Kill”.  The posts included detailed personal information – including names, addresses, and phone numbers – of U.S. law enforcement employees and military members.

The First Amendment, of course, does not cover “true threats”, and so this raises the question of whether retweeting a “threat” posted by someone else constitutes a true threat.  Yassin’s lawyer argues that this type of communication is an expression of free speech, and did not constitute a true threat, since the message was not originally authored by Ms. Yassin, did not contain a specific time or place for carrying out the threat, and that the phrase “Wanted to Kill”, “isn’t a true threat because it is not able to convey any coherent meaning.”

Prosecutors disagree.  The government argues there is no legal argument that retweets should be held to a different standard than any other threat, and that the threats were posted on behalf of Islamic State and specifically targeted an audience of the group’s followers.  Prosecutors also cited a chat between Ms. Yassin and another person on an encrypted messaging app in which she allegedly said her posts “are directed at men and jihad a lot.”

Cloud computingWell, stay tuned.  These novel legal questions will continue to emerge as the volumes of user-generated content on the internet and social media sites explode.

The takeaway?  Lawyers and investigators must consider the value of Electronically Stored Information (ESI) that is created in the cloud.  This ESI can be your best source of evidence.

Source:  “Retweet Case Fuels Free Speech Concerns”, by Nicole Hong.  The Wall Street Journal.  Saturday/Sunday, August 13-14, 2016