What Happens When You Tweet a Death Threat to the President?
Welcome to Bad Ideas, a column in which we examine the practical limits of technology by considering the things you could do, and then investigating exactly why you shouldn’t. Because you can still learn from mistakes you’ll never make.
Every day, millions of people go on Twitter and tweet bad things. People pretend to be an orange juice brand with depression, or engage in fantasies about elected officials. Others tweet bad opinions so that they can write newspaper columns about being yelled at for their bad opinions. There is, however, one bad tweet that’s worse than all the rest, and it’s just six words: “I want to kill the president.”
So what happens if you tweet a death threat to the president?
Before we go any further, let’s just be unequivocal here: You should not, under any circumstances, post death threats online, or off, including one directed at the president. Please don’t do it.
Posting threats against the president is also against the law. Title 18, section 871 of the United States Code explicitly prohibits “any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect.”
Even if no one sees or reports your tweet, someone in the federal government likely will.
Still, you occasionally see such a Tweet. A cursory search of Twitter suggests that people expressing their desire to kill the current president of the United States is not uncommon. In fact, the Secret Service, the federal agency tasked with protecting the president and assessing the threats made against the head of state, estimated in 2017 that there are between six to eight such threats made every single day. Based on court records, the Department of Justice prosecuted 23 people of threatening to kill the president in 2018, and has made 10 prosecutions in 2019 fiscal year.