Judge Says Bombarding Someone On Twitter With Offensive & Threatening Messages Is Free Speech

from the tough-cases dept

Earlier this year we wrote about a tough case, involving a guy who apparently spent nearly all of his waking hours bombarding a Buddhist leader he had a falling out with, with nasty, offensive and threatening messages on Twitter. He was charged with criminal stalking. This raised an awful lot of questions about the First Amendment, and a judge has now ruled that the tweets were, in fact, protected free speech. I tend to think the ruling here is correct, though I can see how this troubles people. As the judge noted, however:
Even though the Internet is the newest medium for anonymous, uncomfortable expression touching on political or religious matters, online speech is equally protected under the First Amendment as there is "no basis for qualifying the level of First Amendment scrutiny that should be applied" to online speech.... Indeed "whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to ever-advancing technology, basic principles of freedom of speech and press, like the First Amendment's command, do not vary when a new and different medium for communication appears."
Funny. I would think that this same reasoning would apply against domain seizures and SOPA, but it never seems to come up. That said, if the guy represents a real threat, I would think there are other laws that should cover that, outside of this broad "anti-stalking" law that was used. The fact that he caused "emotional distress" to the person his tweets were directed at is unfortunate and sad... but not illegal.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    crade (profile), Dec 16th, 2011 @ 12:26pm

    Well, if he were using another medium instead of tweets, I would think it would be stalking wouldn't it? Like if he spent every waking moment phoning, sending threatening letters, or talking with the guy personally any chance he got? That sounds like stalking.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2011 @ 12:53pm

    Wait wait wait... You mean it's legal to be an asshole? Who the hell let that slip through.

     

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  3.  
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    monkyyy, Dec 16th, 2011 @ 1:04pm

    Re:

    why would the law makers outlaw themselves

     

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  4.  
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    really?, Dec 16th, 2011 @ 1:09pm

    bob goodlate and JM twitter acounts HERE I COME! WOOO!

     

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  5.  
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    The eejit (profile), Dec 16th, 2011 @ 1:12pm

    Re:

    Congress, whilse everyone was dealing with SOPA. Didn't you get the memo?

     

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  6.  
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    Nathan F (profile), Dec 16th, 2011 @ 1:17pm

    Re:

    Thats the thing though. In order for the religious leader to even know about the tweets she has to 'follow' his tweet.. she has to be proactive and go out and find the material. With a threatening letter, phone call or e-mail it comes to her without her violation. The judge pointed that out in the ruling.

     

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  7.  
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    hothmonster, Dec 16th, 2011 @ 1:22pm

    I think I get it.

    18 whatever

     

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  8.  
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    Kevin H (profile), Dec 16th, 2011 @ 1:34pm

    It may not be pleasant, but.I prescribe this quote

    "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free"

    The American President, Andrew Shepherd

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2011 @ 1:38pm

    Re:

    +1

     

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  10.  
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    crade (profile), Dec 16th, 2011 @ 1:40pm

    Re: Re:

    Thanks, that makes total sense. I haven't used twitter much, I thought the messages were being sent more directly to the Budhist leader rather than just being broadcast to the guy's followers.

     

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  11.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Dec 16th, 2011 @ 1:51pm

    Re: Re:

    Not necessarily, the user get's notified when someone does an @username tweet. So if she has others addressing her directly, she would have to sift threw the harassing tweets.

    On that note, wouldn't it be harassment, not stalking?

     

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  12.  
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    Russ (profile), Dec 16th, 2011 @ 1:54pm

    Ars Technia

    They do a pretty good job of reviewing the ruling. As noted, it was the medium that decided the case. Because Blogs and Tweets require the participation of the recipient to be communication, rather than passive such as phone or email, it wasn't harassment. Also important was the fact as a public figure, the individual was not as protected from comment as a private person would be.

     

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    DCX2, Dec 16th, 2011 @ 2:31pm

    Re: Ars Technia

    Because Blogs and Tweets require the participation of the recipient to be communication, rather than passive such as phone or email, it wasn't harassment.

    That's not what this other judge ruled. He ruled that one man's blog was not protected by the First Amendment and that it must be deleted entirely.

    http://yro.slashdot.org/story/11/12/14/0439226/judge-orders-man-to-delete-revenge-blog

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2011 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Ars Technia

    /ignore - what a brilliant little feature.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2011 @ 3:18pm

    Christopher Hitchens is dead alas lets all line up and kick gods ass.

    Paraphrased from a quote I believe by Harlin Ellison.

     

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  16.  
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    Steerpike (profile), Dec 16th, 2011 @ 5:04pm

    Too bad the guy wasn't Tweeting copyright-protected material. Then they would have nailed him.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2011 @ 7:45pm

    Re:

    Harlan Ellison another prick who needs to bite the dust already.

     

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  18.  
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    varney (profile), Dec 17th, 2011 @ 8:20am

    John Dean on "cyberbullying"

    You probably know by now that John Dean is doing a series of articles on cyberbullying, and at the end of his first article he invites other attys to contact him with ideas:
    Cyberbullying on Twitter, Part One
    http://verdict.justia.com/2011/12/16/cyberbullying-on-twitter-part-one

     

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  19.  
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    aikiwolfie, Dec 18th, 2011 @ 8:26am

    I think there is a difference between freedom of speech and being a bastard. The offender in this case was just being a bastard and somebody needs to go round his house and kick him in the nuts.

    Freedom of speech is there to allow people to speak up against the establishment. To enable public debate an discussion. The law shouldn't allow that right and privilege to be abused in this way.

    If he'd been standing outside the guys house shouting abuse I'm pretty sure he'd have been charged with some sort of beach of the peace offence. In a sense the prosecution team have failed because it seems they've gone for the most harmful charges they could make a case for and clearly those charges didn't apply in this context.

     

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  20.  
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    John Acord (profile), Dec 18th, 2011 @ 1:37pm

    Zeoli is not the only Titus victim

    I have personal experience with Roger Titus in a case that is on point and relevant. I am a named party in a civil case before Titus. In March 0f 2004 many issues were settled by an Agreed Injunction, which, among other things, required the parties to refrain from making defamatory or derogatory comments or writing about each other. Titus entered a Permanent Injunction. In 2007 I discovered that Roger Mason, owner of a prominent supplement and pharmaceutical enterprise, had been sending anonymous letters to our customers, suppliers, distributors, employees making the most blatant and horrific comments, allegations and threats about myself, my family, and anyone else who supported our case. Among the letters were cartoons portraying my headstone, my body in a cemetery, my body on a gurney in a morgue. In sworn testimony and depositions Mason denied sending or authoring most of the cartoons and anonymous letters even through we are able to show he used identical language and descriptions in email messages/letters he sent to third parties. I filed a motion to have Mason held in contempt. Not only did Titus dismiss my motion, he sanctioned me $25000 for bringing it and when I did not pay it he threw me in the District of Columbia Jail for 97 days where I suffered severe mental and physical abuse. Yes, I was thrown into jail for asking Titus to enforce his own Permanent Injunction! If you think I'm making this up, please look up my appeal to the 4th Circuit, 09-1481. Titus needs to be removed from the bench by impeachment or whatever means are possible. He is a danger to the judiciary and is totally out of control. If you want to learn more just Google "John Acord" + Titus

     

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