The world has heard an earful from Marshall Bruce Mathers, the recording artist also known as Eminem aka Slim Shady. Since he broke out in the rap and hip hop scene as a pale poet from Motown with lots to say, Mathers also has done his share of aggravating audiences with his pointed and profane views, which women and gays have found hateful and offensive. Look online and it’s also clear that Eminem’s lyrics lean far out on themes of violence and harm to others. As with others in his genre, however, no one has ever suggested stuffing a sock in his utterances, legally speaking, no matter how disturbing his words. It’s music and free speech and protected, right? Well, what happens when those very same lyrics get put to page, on Facebook specifically, and they’re thrown in with other messages targeted at an individual? What happens then? That issue has made its way through an appellate court and heads to the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.
A little over 10 years ago, the Supreme Court determined in Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343, that the First Amendment might not protect hate speech or a hate symbol, if a “reasonable person” would deem it was a threat. However, will the Supreme Court consider this issue in an online context? Anthony Elonis, a Pennsylvania man, said to be distressed about a recent divorce, posted rap lyrics by Eminem on Facebook, ranting about attacks on elementary schools, his estranged wife and others. His attorneys say he never intended to carry out out such threats. They have also called forth rap music experts to tell the justices that rap music “privileges exaggeration, metaphor, and above all, wordplay,” so it does not always mean what the words say.
This case not only involves issues involving the reasonableness of the threat, but also, whether social media and Internet posts can be used to criminally punish an individual.
This is one more case before the Court that involves social media, Internet, and the ever-changing world around us. The amicus briefs filed to this date, from dependables like the ACLU to rap music scholars to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and groups involved in protesting for and against abortion — also reflect the divergent parties that see critical issues at stake in this case.
In case you’re wondering and may have lost track of him, Eminem has just finished a top summer tour and is said to be readying his next, anticipated album. He’s gotten into the record books for squeezing words into a recent song — and getting attention from the New York Times for the feat. Meantime, it’s dreadfully unsafe for work so click on it with discretion. But one of the Eminem works cited in the Supreme Court briefs is the deeply distressing Kim and this video version rolls out the lyrics for clear viewing and gasping understanding: