We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message

Twitter Missives Stalking or Free Speech?

Is posting a public message on Twitter the same as speaking publicly from a soapbox, or a more direct form of communication?

Twitter messages are the subject of a legal case that raises the question of whether public postings on the social networking service can amount to stalking if they are deemed threatening to another person.

Is posting a public message on Twitter the same as speaking publicly from a soapbox, or is it a more direct form of communication, such as a letter or phone call?

A federal criminal case involving a man accused of tweeting thousands of vehement messages aimed at a Maryland-based Buddhist leader tests the question.

According to The New York Times, William Lawrence Cassidy is accused of online stalking because of 8,000 Twitter and blog entries that he allegedly posted about Alyce Zeoli and her Buddhist group. The posts included messages such as "Do the world a favor and go kill yourself. P.S. Have a nice day," or "Ya like haiku? Here's one for ya. Long limb, sharp saw, hard drop."

Zeoli says because of the posts she feared for her life and has locked herself up at home for extended periods of time, even hiring armed guards at one point.

There are federal laws against cyberstalking and many states have enacted such laws as well. The question, however, is whether or not they apply to messages posted publicly on Twitter.

Free speech advocates are wary.

"While not all speech is protected by the First Amendment, the idea that the courts must police every inflammatory word spoken online not only chills freedom of speech but is unsupported by decades of First Amendment jurisprudence," writes the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which wants the case dismissed.

Cassidy is now in jail in Maryland awaiting trial.

IDG UK Sites

Best camera phone of 2015: iPhone 6 Plus vs LG G4 vs Galaxy S6 vs One M9 vs Nexus 6

IDG UK Sites

In defence of BlackBerrys

IDG UK Sites

Why we should reserve judgement on Apple ditching Helvetica in OS X/iOS for the Apple Watch's San...

IDG UK Sites

Retina 3.3GHz iMac 27in preview: Apple cuts £400 of price of Retina iMac with new model