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We’ve said it before in this space, but it bears repeating: Your freedom of speech does not guarantee you freedom from consequences for that speech.

This has always been true in our nation, but the 21st-century twist is social media: What you say, what you post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or other social media can be shared by anybody. If you think deleting the post makes the problem go away, we’d like to introduce you to the screenshot.

It can have personal repercussions — the person you talked trash about on Facebook could be shown your post by a third person and confront you about it — and, as three local individuals found out recently, it can have legal repercussions.

One man threatened co-workers with a gun. Two others threatened police officers in the wake of the Jan. 17 officer-involved fatal shooting of a Racine man who reportedly brandished a firearm. All three have been charged in Racine County Circuit Court with making terrorist threats.

Also in the wake of the Jan. 17 fatal shooting, there have been peaceful protests and online threats against those protesters.

Threats against peaceful protesters also are unacceptable, and illegal. Your right to peacefully protest is guaranteed by the First Amendment; you cannot threaten people exercising that right. Not free from consequences, anyway.

The big Page A1 headline on this newspaper’s Monday issue was direct in its advice: Be careful what you post.

You can’t make threats of violence against someone — especially on social media, where there’s a written record of the threat, and words or images can spread like wildfire — and expect no blowback. Don’t make threats, and treat the internet as if it’s forever.

One sure way to disprove the misguided idea that “only my friends will see it” is to threaten police officers, which you shouldn’t do and, as two local men found out recently, is against the law.


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