How do courts determine whether speech is a true threat?

That is the question that one Savannah Law School professor told News 3 is keeping lawyers up at night, especially as more people post potential threats against schools online. 

“You do want to protect people’s privacy, in terms of mental health issues, but if this is going public, I think it certainly sends an alarm,” said Professor Vinay Harpalani. 

55-year-old Teresa Richardson raised alarm when she allegedly posted a Youtube video titled, “Shooting Godley Station School with Machine Gun Adventures Street View.” 

Savannah Police said the video, which has been removed, included the sound of machine gun fire playing in the background and obscene comments directed at students and teachers. Police also said Richardson admitted to posting the video and claimed it was her right to free speech. 

“One could imagine that this may be a disturbing video, but one might be doing it for artistic reasons, but if she knew she was going to cause fear, if she knew or should have known, then that would be a violation of Georgia law,” said Harpalani. 

It is illegal for anyone to use a computer network to share a terroristic threat. Richardson’s charge is a misdemeanor, but Professor Harpalani told News 3 that it is an issue that expands beyond the case. 

“More and more threats could come this way, and we can’t use the fact that it’s public to shield those. A lot of things with the First Amendment [and] free speech are line drawing exercises, but we don’t want to diminish expression, so I think it’s certainly going to make us think harder about these issues.”