A timely story today from Mashable.com about online speech and Twitter. What do you think? Should tweets be protected as free speech even if they seem like a threat?
A federal judge dismissed a case of cyberstalking on Twitter ruling that even though some tweets caused emotional stress, they are still considered free speech.
The case involved Alyce Zeoli, a Buddhist leader based in Maryland. Zeoli aroused the ire of William Lawrence Cassidy, a man who, according to the memorandum opinion issued in the case, befriended Zeoli in 2007 before the two had a falling out. Using various pseudonyms on Twitter and on blogs, Cassidy published more than 8,000 tweets and posts about Zeoli often wishing death upon her. (One tweet, for example, read, “Do the world a favor and go kill yourself. P.S. Have a nice day.”)
Zeoli cooperated with the FBI, which had Cassidy indicted and put in jail in February on interstate stalking charges, a statute of the Violence Against Women Act. Cassidy sought to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment. The judge in the case, Roger W. Titus, agreed with Cassidy’s assertion, concluding 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.” Titus also cited the fact that Zeoli is a public figure (she was the subject of a book published in 2000) and ruled that Cassidy’s remarks didn’t constitute a “true threat.”
Read the rest of the story and the comments from others here.