Judge Defends Free Speech on Twitter in Key Case

Dismisses suit against man accused of stalking an enemy

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 16, 2011 6:07 AM CST

(Newser) – Posting personal attacks on Twitter may not be a matter for the courts—even if thousands of tweets are involved, according to a US judge. In a case in San Francisco, the government accused one William Lawrence Cassidy of causing a Buddhist leader "severe emotional distress" through the social network; some of his thousands of tweets looked forward to her death. But the government's case was "directed squarely at protected speech: anonymous, uncomfortable Internet speech addressing religious matters," judge Roger Titus wrote.

One tweet told the religious leader, Alyce Zeoli, to "do the world a favor and go kill yourself." But Titus likened the situation to bulletins posted in a colonial American's yard: A colonist would have to visit the yard to see the post. Similarly, tweets can be "turned on or off by the owners of the bulletin boards," he noted. "This is in sharp contrast to a telephone call, letter or e-mail specifically addressed to and directed at another person." It's the first case decided under new cyberstalking measures, and as such, the decision "is likely to be quite influential," an expert tells the New York Times.

William Lawrence Cassidy posted personal attacks against a religious leader on Twitter.   (Getty Images)
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