Federal Judge Dismisses Twitter Stalking Case
This week a Federal judge dismissed a case of Twitter stalking, claiming that to continue with the case would violate the first amendment free speech rights of the accused stalker.
The case involves William Lawrence Cassidy, formerly convicted of assault, domestic violence, arson, and carrying a dangerous weapon onto a plane, who is accused of sending over 8,000 tweets that even the judge agreed caused Alyce Zeoli, who goes by the Twitter handle @JALpalyul, a Buddhist religious leader "substantial emotional distress". According to an FBI investigation, Mr. Cassidy continually changed his Twitter handle, sending Tweets from a variety of different accounts.
Ms. Zeoli was an active Twitter user with over 23,000 Twitter followers. After the continued threats, she remained indoors for 18 months and stopped using Twitter for awhile. It is hard to find details on the actual threatening comments, but I did come across a blog post that made disparaging remarks about Ms. Zeoli.
The extent of the threat and the harassment is difficult to judge since nine of the accounts Mr. Cassidy supposedly used to stalk Ms. Zeoli have been deleted or suspended, and according to the daily dot, these were the most brutal. Without seeing the actual tweets, it is hard to claim this is a victory for free speech.
The judge compared Twitter to a billboard and said that tweeting was different from direct communication, it was more akin to posting a billboard in your front yard or standing on a soapbox on the corner. Anonymity and pseudonymity are still concepts that our judicial system hasn't fully comprehended. Standing on a street corner, I know who you are. If the tweets were actually threatening, sending them from a pseudonymous account carries different legal implications for free speech.