How a ‘satirical’ social media post landed Martin Shkreli in jail

‘He says things that are stupid,’ his lawyer contended. That didn’t sway the judge. Here’s what communicators can take away from the online indiscretion by the ‘pharma bro.’


Freedom of speech is not a license to be reckless on social media.

Pharmaceutical boss Martin Shkreli’s Facebook post led to the revocation of his bail after his arrest on security fraud charges.

The Guardian reported:

The government sought to get Shkreli locked up as a danger to the community amid the fallout from his social media post, which read: “The Clinton Foundation is willing to KILL to protect its secrets. So on HRC’s book tour, try to grab a hair from her. I must confirm the sequences I have. Will pay $5,000 per hair obtained from Hillary Clinton.”

The judge in the case ruled in favor of the motion.

Reuters reported:

Shkreli, 34, dubbed the “pharma bro” for exploits that include jacking up the price of a life-saving drug by 5,000 percent, was silent and stony-faced as U.S. marshals led him out of a Brooklyn courtroom. He had been free on a $5 million bail since his December 2015 arrest.

U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto ruled that Shkreli’s Sept. 4 post, made shortly before Clinton embarked on a book tour, showed he posed a danger to the public. The post prompted an investigation by the U.S. Secret Service, which is charged with protecting the former Democratic presidential candidate.

Shkreli’s defense attorney argued that the post was satirical and should be protected under free speech, but Matsumoto called Shkreli’s Facebook post a “solicitation of an assault” rather than a protected political statement.

The Washington Post reported:

“The fact that he continues to remain unaware of the inappropriateness of his actions or words demonstrates to me that he may be creating ongoing risk to the community,” said U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto, in revoking his bond.

On Monday, Shkreli apologized in a letter to the judge:

“I understand now, that some may have read my comments about Mrs. Clinton as threatening, when that was never my intention when I made the comments,” Shkreli wrote in the letter.

The Washington Post reported:

Instead of shrinking from the public outrage that has followed him for two years, Shkreli has mounted an erratic and sometimes outrageous online defense of himself, appearing to revel in the negative attention.

His 70,000 Facebook followers do not take his statements seriously, said Shkreli’s attorney Benjamin Brafman. “He did not intend to cause harm,” he said. “Being inappropriate does not make you a danger to the community.”

“He says things that are stupid. I don’t think stupid makes you violent,” Brafman said.

However, Matsumoto disagreed, pointing to the risk that some of his large online following might take Shkreli up on the request. She also didn’t think much of Shkreli’s apology.

The Guardian reported:

…[F]or the judge, it was too little, too late.

“He doesn’t have to apologize to me,” she said. “He should apologize to the government, the Secret Service and Hillary Clinton.”

The news underlines the importance of watching what you post to social platforms, even as the current political climate is causing many to write increasingly controversial statements online.

CNBC reported:

The lawyer disputed prosecutors’ contention that comments Shkreli made online about Clinton and a journalist, Lauren Duca, constituted an escalating pattern of threats,

Brafman suggested that Shkreli, who claims to be a supporter of President Donald Trump, was engaging in “political hyperbole” or “satire” in his comments about both women.

Brafman cited the fact that comedian Kathy Griffin was not prosecuted after she posted online a photograph of herself holding what appeared to be the bloody, severed head of Trump.

“Another example of political hyperbole is when President Donald Trump, as a candidate, caused a controversy last year by implying that ‘Second Amendment people’ could prevent former Secretary Clinton from abolishing their right to bear arms.”

If you’re not sure what constitutes as satire or a threat, it’s better not to say it at all.

Even if you’re confident of where your statements lie on the spectrum of controversy and appropriateness, it’s often best to hold off on your Twitter or Facebook rant. You never know when one might come back to haunt you as you prepare for a job interview or a press conference.

Communicators, be prepared to stand by what you say online—and arm yourself with a crisis strategy in the event that an executive in your organization or a client takes to social media to say something controversial, cross a line or get involved in a social media argument.

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