Judge rules Twitter "cyberstalker" not stalker after all

By on December 16, 2011, 6:30 PM

A federal judge ruled today that William Cassidy, a man who has tweeted nearly 8,000 times about female Buddhist leader Alyce Zeoli, is protected under constitutional free speech.

What makes this case more interesting than "just some guy" who "tweets alot" about someone is the content of those tweets. Most of the messages were unsettling, such as "Do the world a favor and go kill yourself. P.S. Have a nice day" and as another example, "Ya like haiku? Here’s one for ya. Long limb, sharp saw, hard drop". 

Cassidy's questionable grasp of haiku aside, what Alyce Zeoli did to elicit his ire is not clear, but it was said that they both had a "falling out" after befriending each other in 2007.

Zeoli, understandably disturbed by his onslaught of disturbing tweets, turned to law enforcement. The FBI launched an investigation regarding the matter. Complying with a subpoena, Twitter revealed Mr. Cassidy's IP address and authorities quickly indicted Cassidy on Federal "Interstate stalking" charges. In February, the man was subsequently thrown in jail but he refuted the indictment as a violation of his free speech. As it turns out, Judge Roger Titus agrees.

Titus said the First Amendment "protects speech even when the subject or the manner of expression is uncomfortable and challenges conventional religious beliefs, political attitudes or standards of good taste." He then likened Twitter to a public billboard, reasoning that the service "does not communicate, except to those who voluntarily choose to read what is posted on it." and did not feel as though Cassidy's comments represented a "true threat" to Ms. Zeoli.

Titus added that Zeoli had published a book in 2000 and is thus a somewhat public figure, lessening the uniqueness of the situation.

There is no word on a possible appeal, but Zeoli's reaction to the ruling was reportedly "appalled and fightened".

Despite the favorable decision, according to CNN, Cassidy is still being detained in jail with hopes of being released soon.

User Comments: 6

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TJGeezer said:

Watch this get spun as justification for the government to have an "off" switch for the whole net or the entertainment industry to be able to kill a site at whim, without due process. (Both laws that congress wanted to pass this year.) Meanwhile the Corporate Supremes rule election-buying by corporations is free speech. For such a simple statement guaranteeing a right to the people, it sure has been mangled.

dms96960 said:

I wonder if Federal Judge Roger Titus will change his mind when about 10,000 people start tweeting the same type of message about him.

Rick Rick, TechSpot Staff, said:

dms96960 said:

I wonder if Federal Judge Roger Titus will change his mind when about 10,000 people start tweeting the same type of message about him.

That would be a very good test of whether or not the ruling should hold or not. :-)

Mindwraith said:

since when were death threats covered by free speech? that's a jail sentence where I live. free speech lets you have opinions on things, it doesn't let you threaten another human being.

learninmypc learninmypc said:

I don't belong to ANY social website,but it is my understanding that if you don't like what someone says in them,ignore them.

Guest said:

There weren't any death threats on it, just distasteful messages. No-one was forcing Zeoli to read any of this, and many other public figures have their share of hate sites dedicated to them. This is definitely protected by free speech.

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