Facebook exchange between Box Elder resident, politician raises questions about internet accountability

BOX ELDER, S.D. — A social media squabble between a Box Elder resident and a state senator is raising questions about accountability of what you say on the internet.

In response to criticisms over state Sen. Lynne DiSanto’s involvement in the local search for a missing 9-year-old, DiSanto made a comment noting the resident’s location and said “see you soon.”

The exchange on Facebook was perceived as threatening by a Box Elder resident, leading to a no trespass notification against State Senator Lynne DiSanto in Box Elder — begging the question, what is or is not okay to say online and what can you be held accountable for?

“People think they can say anything online with impunity,” said Lt. Chris Misselt with the Box Elder Police Department. “Even when it’s an innocent error, people still need to reflect on the words they used and how they will be understood.”

Misselt says reports are common when spur of the moment comments are made and threats are perceived. He also says comments can sometimes be intentionally misconstrued to imply threats.

“It’s an increasingly common behavior as everything moves to cyberspace,” said Misselt.

These types of exchanges can lead to protection orders. In 2018, 1,046 protection orders were filed in Pennington County compared to 4,549 in South Dakota.

More serious scenarios can lead to criminal charges.

Trespassing in South Dakota is a class one misdemeanor, punishable up to one year in prison and/or a $2,000 fine.

“Every investigation we do takes up resources,” said Misselt. “The amount of resources and the time involved and the type of investigative tasks vary by who the people are, the action they are requesting, what the nature of the threats are.”

According to the police report, the elements needed to qualify a criminal offense were not met. The case was closed after two days.


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