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Cyberstalking is Okay, per Twitter Challenged Judge
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With all of the laws against stalking and harassment already on the books, not to mention the efforts against bullying at an all time high, it’d seem like a no brainer that sending someone threatening messages via Twitter would be against the law.

Not according to one judge.

  
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During a period of over 18 months, William Lawrence Cassidy sent Buddhist leader Alyce Zeoli over 8,000 harassing and threatening tweets from. In 2010, Zeoli reported the harassment to the FBI and pressed charges. But in recent days, a federal judge dismissed the case, on the grounds that “uncomfortable” speech on sites like Twitter is protected by the Constitution.

Specifically, Zeoli cooperated with the FBI. Cassidy was indicted and jailed in February on interstate stalking charges, a statute of the Violence Against Women Act. Cassidy sought to dismiss the indictment, saying it violated the First Amendment.

The judge in the case, Roger W. Titus, agreed with Cassidy’s assertion, and came to the conclusion that 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.”

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In addition, Titus cited the fact that Zeoli is a public figure, as she was the subject of a book published about a decade ago, and ruled that Cassidy’s remarks didn’t constitute a “true threat.”

Seemingly, the judge in the case is perhaps either low tech or just turning a blind eye to what appears to be obvious to everyone else. In regards to Twitter, he noted that, versus a “telephone call, letter or e-mail that is addressed to and directed at another person,” the postings on twitter could simply be turned on or off.



Though it’s possible to block people on Twitter, just as someone might do with a phone or email, nothing can stop the person sending the harassing messages from creating another account and continuing on with the harassment. So, in fact, Twitter is, in fact, very much like a telephone call, letter or e-mail that is directed at another person.

The background: Zeoli and Cassidy met and became friends in 2007, but then had a parting of the ways. Beginning in 2008, Cassidy began harassing Zeoli via both Twitter and through blogs, and assumed various pseudonyms. Cassidy sent Tweets to Buddhist leader Alyce Zeoli over 8,000 times. The messages criticized her looks, Buddhism, and describe ways that she could die, as well as ways she could commit suicide. Each time Zeoli blocked one of the accounts, Cassidy would create a new username.

As a result of the messages, Zeoli was afraid to leave her house for over 18 months because she thought Cassidy would hurt her.

Again, seemingly a no brainer. This ruling is shocking, not only in and of itself, but in conjunction with the fact that cyberbullying has been front and center in recent years. One only need read the headlines to see that allegedly harmless online communications have led traumatized teenagers commit suicide. One can only pray that the ruling will not set a damaging, misguided precedent.



 

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