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Michigan State student arrested for 'threat' posted on app

Social media apps like Twitter provide users with a measure of anonymity, which gives some users the sense they can say things they would never say with their real name attached. Readers should be aware, however, that what they say over the Internet may be used as a reason to arrest them and charge them with a crime.

Recently, police arrested a student at Michigan State University on suspicion of making a terrorist threat. Authorities claim the suspect, who they say is 18 or 19, made the threat on Yik Yak, a smartphone app on which users make anonymous messages viewable by other users within a 1.5-mile radius.

It is not clear how police became aware of the message. They traced its IP address and located the suspect in an MSU dormitory, where they took him into custody. They found no weapons in his possession.

The Lansing State Journal does not quote the message in question. An article about the case suggests that it threatens a school, but does not mention a specific facility. A high school in Lansing was locked down to outsiders for a few hours, as were East Lansing Public Schools.

However, a campus police officer said she did not know what it was about the message that justified the terroristic threat charge.

In cases like this, authorities’ interest in preventing violence must be balanced with individuals’ First Amendment right to free speech. Unfortunately, when authorities label someone a “terrorist,” they will probably become very aggressive in trying to secure a guilty plea or conviction. That is why having a defense attorney to defend your rights is very important.

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