Whether you call it a “jiff” or a “giff,” a .GIF file can get you arrested these days, even if it doesn’t contain banned pornography.
Thursday, the Justice Department released a statement about its recent move to arrest Terrence McNeil of Akron, Ohio, in relation to posts on his Tumblr account. Specifically, the charges state that McNeil solicited the murder of US soldiers by displaying a Gif on his blog that listed the names, addresses, and branches of US military members which ISIL seeks to execute.
A day after the US holiday Veteran’s Day, which honors the sacrifice of military members, U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach told said:
As this nation honors our veterans, we must make clear that we will not tolerate threats of violence against our service members. This defendant is charged with urging harm to our men and women in uniform and will now answer for those threats.
Free speech in the United States is continually an existential question, and McNeil’s case, the government believes the 25 year old man has gone too far. The .GIF file in question was a reblog, which is Tumblr parlance for someone else’s content, but nevertheless the government appears to be holding McNeil singularly responsible.
“Aggressively Defending First Amendment Rights”
Regarding McNeil’s exercise of the first amendment (which covers certain important civil liberties, including free speech), Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony said:
While we aggressively defend First Amendment rights, the individual arrested went far beyond free speech by reposting names and addresses of 100 U.S. service members, all with the intent to have them killed. We will remain vigilant in our efforts to stop those who wish to support these despicable acts.
The reblog went live on the 25th of September. A few weeks later, McNeil is in cuffs, while the hacker who originally provided the data that was displayed in the image file, Junaid Hussain, was killed in an August drone strike. Readers may remember Hussain claiming to have hacked various portions of the Department of Defense, including the Pentagon.
Free speech has always had its boundaries. Shouting “fire” in a crowded theater was a classic example in school, where you weren’t free to cause an undue panic. But the government has found on more than one occasion since the dawn of the Internet that there is a line between free speech and misconduct. Another such case were these anti-abortion activists. Posting the personal information of anyone with encouragement to kill them is most likely going to get you in trouble, even if the information is wrong, because the intent is essentially murder by proxy.
Nevertheless, Tumblr has opted to keep McNeil’s blog live. The blog is an odd mixture of pro-Jihad propaganda and personal anecdotes. To be fair, that can be said of most Tumblr accounts to an extent: an odd mixture of something and personal anecdotes. Here’s an archive of “Abu Fil.”
Featured image from Shutterstock.