Twitter Cyberstalking Case Dismissed, a Free Speech Win

Judge: Offensive, uncomfortable tweets are protected by the First Amendment.

By Mike Anderson
|  Saturday, Dec 17, 2011  |  Updated 4:35 PM PDT
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Twitter Cyberstalking Case Dismissed, a Free Speech Win

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A California man wrote 8,000 "uncomfortable" tweets to a Buddhist leader in Maryland.

In a move that may influence future Internet law and online freedom of expression, a federal judge dismissed a criminal cyberstalking case involving Twitter this week.

William Lawrence Cassidy, a California man, was accused of cyberstalking Alyce Zeoli, a Buddhist leader based in Maryland. The government said Cassidy wrote 8,000 tweets about Zeoli, causing "substantial emotional distress."

Zeoli even feared for her life because most of Cassidy's tweets went something like this: "Do the world a favor and go kill yourself. P.S. Have a nice day," the New York Times reported.

But Judge Roger W. Titus dismissed the case Thursday, saying that unlike a telephone call or a letter, Twitter is more like a public bulletin board that can be ignored. Users have the option to filter messages in their feed.

"...The government’s indictment here is directed squarely at protected speech: anonymous, uncomfortable Internet speech addressing religious matters," Titus wrote in his 27-page order.

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation supported the decision to dismiss Cassidy's case. Zeoli's attorney said she was "appalled and frightened by the judge’s ruling."

Under the Tibetan Buddhist religious tradition, Zeoli is considered a reincarnated master and has more than 39,000 Twitter followers under her username @JALpalyul. Cassidy posted his comments under many different usernames.

Cassidy has a record of arson, assault and domestic violence, the Times reported. And in 1993, he was convicted of carrying a "dangerous weapon" onto a plane.

Cassidy's attorneys are working to get him released from jail in Maryland. It's unclear whether the government will appeal the judge's decision.

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