One night last summer, Jarvis Britton of Birmingham, Al., sent out Twitter messages he later described as “stupid” jokes. Prosecutors did not think they were funny, says the New York Times. “Let's Go Kill the President,” wrote Britton, who is 26 and unemployed. “I think we could get the president with cyanide! #MakeItSlow.” After a round of death threats against President Obama, he was arrested and has been sentenced to a year in federal prison.
Britton was the latest in a series of social media users to overstep the boundary of legal free speech and face jail time for threatening the president's life. The Secret Service investigates an average of 10 threats against Obama each day, said Ronald Kessler, author of “In the President's Secret Service,” a book about the agency. Privacy advocates worry that remarks intended for friends and followers may be misinterpreted or that carelessly typed posts will be seen in the same light as letters mailed to the White House. Federal law makes it punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine to threaten the life of the president or anyone else under Secret Service protection. The law does not require proof the suspect intended to carry out the plot.