In a first of its kind ruling, a U.S. Federal judge has ruled that communications made on public forums such as Twitter still constitute free speech even if their content is distressing to the recipient. In other words, Twitter stalking is not really stalking, it’s protected speech under the First Amendment.

In this particular case William Lawrence Cassidy sent over 8,000 tweets over the course of two months to Alyce Zeoli, the leader of a Buddhist group. Some of those messages contained haikus with violent content and images, others said bizarre things like “Do yourself a favor and go kill herself. P.S. Have a nice day.” Cassidy frequently changed his Twitter handle to avoid Zeoli’s attempts at blocking him, and she became a recluse afraid to leave her house for 18 months even though he lived in California and she in Maryland. The FBI finally arrested Cassidy after monitoring his harassment of the religious leader. Doesn’t this sound like cyberstalking to you?

Judge Roger Titus dismissed the case, reasoning that the public nature of harassing tweets makes them similar to postings on message boards. The New York Times reports:

In his order, Judge Titus drew an analogy to the colonial period, when the Bill of Rights was written. A blog, he said, is like a bulletin board that a person of that time might have planted in his front yard. “If one colonist wants to see what is on another’s bulletin board, he would need to walk over to his neighbor’s yard and look at what is posted, or hire someone else to do so,” he offered.

With Twitter, he went on, news from one colonist’s bulletin board could automatically show up on another’s. The postings can be “turned on or off by the owners of the bulletin boards,” he wrote. In other words, one can disregard what is posted on a bulletin board. “This is in sharp contrast to a telephone call, letter or e-mail specifically addressed to and directed at another person,” he concluded.

The victim in this case is shocked by the ruling and hopes to appeal this decision.

Do you agree with the reasoning behind this decision? Should harassing Twitter messages be considered stalking?

 

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  • Mike P.

    Direct mentions are directed, yet public, messages. The judge’s analogy does not hold. In this case, I believe the “stalking” charge is obvious because the sender kept changing their name for the sole purpose of making it difficult to impossible for the target to ignore the messages. This is basic. Either the judge received some bad advice, or the judge is a fool.

    If the messages came from the same source, and were not threatening, then a stalking case is not appropriate. Perhaps some sort of civil redress would be in order.