Former U.S. Diplomat Convicted Of Threatening Arab American Group

"That question is at the heart of hundreds of cases across the country and is likely to become more pressing as bias-motivated incidents rise in tandem with the country's political polarization, said Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor and a leading scholar of hate crimes online. Her research shows that women and people from marginalized groups — racial and religious minorities — are the most frequently targeted for online harassment.

Because most hate speech is protected under the First Amendment, prosecutors tend to shy away from risky cases in the gray area and only go after the most egregious, felony-level violations. Citron said harassers know this and use it as a loophole to terrorize their victims, sometimes for years, by keeping their words just short of an outright threat of violence.

"They know that they can push right up to the line and nothing will happen," Citron said."