Actress and avid Kentucky fan Ashley Judd shook up social media Tuesday when she said she would file charges against those who sent her obscene and threatening messages about one of her tweets during Sunday’s SEC Tournament championship game, in which the Wildcats defeated Arkansas.
Judd, whose movie Insurgent — a sequel to the 2014 movie Divergent — opens this week, told NBC News that she would press charges against those who posted violent and degrading tweets in response to her tweet saying the Razorbacks were playing dirty.
On Judd’s Twitter feed, the actress and UK graduate called her comment about Arkansas’ play “a stout opinion.”
The original tweet does not appear on Judd’s current Twitter feed. But it was widely reported Sunday as this: “(at)ArkRazorbacks dirty play can kiss my team’s free throw making a-- … Bloodied 3 players so far.”
Judd, 46, could not be reached for comment; tweets to her account (at)AshleyJudd were not returned. It could not be determined if she filed charges or in what jurisdiction she filed them.
“Everyone needs to take personal responsibility for what they write,” Judd told NBC.
On NBC, she described the threats as: “That many people, that explicit, that overt.”
While Judd was receiving admiring comments — and a new round of insults — in various Internet forums for taking on the cause of social media bullying and threats, the question remains: How likely is it that the comments she received could result in successful prosecution?
“I would think that would be no different than how you deal with a phone call or harassing letter,” said Louisville attorney Jon Fleischaker, who has practiced First Amendment law for 40 years. “It’s communication.”
If there is a death threat on Twitter, Fleischaker said, “You can take action, if you can find out who it is.”
But Judd’s potential case also raises other issues, he said, like whether such comments could be construed as a credible threat against Judd’s safety or instead were uttered in the heat of the moment by outraged fans after Judd accused a team of playing dirty.
“You’ve got to look at the particular language, whether in context it was taken as a real threat or a commentary on her commentary,” Fleischaker said. “… She put herself out there. … She can’t claim reasonably not to (expect) a response on that.”
But if the Twitter flame war is interpreted instead as “just words in the midst of a heated basketball game that means much to some and not to others,” Fleischaker said, comments that include name-calling might be interpreted as hyperbole on both sides.
Judd also could file a civil suit against her Twitter attackers, Fleischaker said. While she might not be successful, he said, “it could cause the other person problems.”
A photo of Judd being kissed by ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale also flared up on social media Sunday, many interpreting the kiss as unwelcome by Judd. On NBC, Judd said that the photo was misinterpreted and that Vitale was “like an uncle to me.”
Judd offered one example on her Twitter feed of the abusive tweets. A tweet from a Twitter user identified as Leeroy — Max called Judd several names and suggested she perform a sexual act on UK men’s coach John Calipari, whom he also insulted.
Judd retweeted the insult as an example of the attitude with which she was confronted. On Tuesday, Leeroy — Max was no longer listed as a Twitter user.
Judd said on the Today show Tuesday morning that she could have phrased her concerns over Arkansas’ play in a more moderate tone.
Bullying and threatening messages received over social media are a concern because many users do not post under their real names, instead concocting elaborate anonymous online profiles.
The Twitter Help Center online allows users to report users who are causing them concern. It asks Twitter users to put the information into categories such as “offensive,” “harassment” and “specific violent threats involving physical safety or well-being.”
Twitter told NBC that it had tripled the size of the team responding to abuse reports from users.
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