- Alyce Zeoli, a Buddhist leader, pressed interstate stalking charges against William Cassidy
- Cassidy published more than 8,000 tweets about Zeoli often wishing death upon her
- The judge dismissed Cassidy's indictment because it violated the First Amendment
- Judge says the amendment protects free speech and didn't constitute a 'true 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."
Factoring into Titus's thinking was his assessment of Twitter and blogs, which he likened to billboards. Billboards, he reasoned, do not send messages and "does not communicate, except to those who voluntarily choose to read what is posted on it."
In reaction to the ruling, Zeoli was "appalled and frightened," according to her lawyer, Shanlon Wu, who spoke to The New York Times. Chun Wright, one of Zeoli's attorneys, says it hasn't been determined yet whether an appeal to Titus's ruling will be sought. Cassidy's public defenders, meanwhile, are working on getting him released from jail, according to the report.
What do you think? Should posts on Twitter and blogs be protected even if they appear to be threatening? Let us know in the comments.