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Prosecuted For Critical Twittering 334

Posted by Soulskill
from the tweets-are-for-jailbirds dept.
lee1 writes "The Electronic Frontier Foundation is trying to urge a federal court (PDF) to block what they claim is the unconstitutional use of the federal anti-stalking law to prosecute a man for posting criticism of a public figure to Twitter. The law was originally targeted against crossing state lines for the purpose of stalking, but was modified in 2005 to make the 'intentional infliction of emotional distress' by the use of 'any interactive computer service' a crime. The prosecution's theory in this case is that using Twitter to criticize a public figure can be a criminal act if the person's feelings are hurt."
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Prosecuted For Critical Twittering

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday August 01, 2011 @02:31PM (#36950446)

    I'm suing all of Slashdot for imposing years of emotional distress on me every April 1st. I'll settle for no less than $1 million and a public flogging of kdawson.

  • This is absolutely brilliant. While we are at it, let's bring up a private prosecution against old butch Oscar Wilde. That will learn those satirists.

    • Holy crap! You want a time machine? Just convince lawyers the can go back in time and sue people and I guarantee they'll invent one.

  • by gcnaddict (841664) on Monday August 01, 2011 @02:35PM (#36950496)

    The prosecution's theory in this case is that using Twitter to criticize a public figure can be a criminal act if the person's feelings are hurt.

    Yay, a law that's about to be ruled as unconstitutional!

    • by molnarcs (675885)

      The prosecution's theory in this case is that using Twitter to criticize a public figure can be a criminal act if the person's feelings are hurt.

      Yay, a law that's about to be ruled as unconstitutional!

      Let's hope so. Although at this rate, it's going to be passed sooner or later (I give it 10 years). Yes, that's the direction we are heading. The simple thought that proposing this law is possible is worrying enough. That's where we are now - politicians proposing laws such as this without flinching... that's normal today. They don't think there's an issue. They don't think anyone important would think there's an issue. That's quite tragic.

      • The simple thought that proposing this law is possible is worrying enough.

        They're not "proposing" this law. It was passed into law in 2005.

        • by shentino (1139071)

          Quite right.

          It's rather hard to prosecute someone under a law that hasn't been passed yet.

          Ex post facto and all that good stuff.

          • Hmm, reading the text of this law, it looks like it specifically removes "interactive computer services" from the definition of "telecommunications devices" covered by this law.

            Which would almost certainly prevent twittering being counted as "harassing" under this law.

            "First, we hang all the lawyers" comes to mind here...

        • by Sancho (17056) *

          They proposed it at one point, and the fact that they thought it was a good idea is terrifying.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The prosecution's theory in this case is that using Twitter to criticize a public figure can be a criminal act if the person's feelings are hurt.

      Why do I get the feeling that the above isn't how the prosecution describe it? Seriously, this reads like a ridiculous caricature of whatever their argument actually is, which is fine for the EFF in trying to persuade the court (who already knows the other side of the story) but absolutely stupid in an article supposedly helping us to discuss and/or form opinions. What is the point of this?

      • by starless (60879)

        Perhaps of interest is this web page which seems to claim that the defendant was previously convicted of scamming (the same?) Buddhist group.
        http://tenpathetic.wordpress.com/category/william-cassidy/page/2/ [wordpress.com]
        This suggests there may perhaps be a bit more to this case than the simple criticism of a "public" figure.

        • Perhaps of interest is this web page which seems to claim that the defendant was previously convicted of scamming (the same?) Buddhist group.
          http://tenpathetic.wordpress.com/category/william-cassidy/page/2/ [wordpress.com]
          This suggests there may perhaps be a bit more to this case than the simple criticism of a "public" figure.

          Most interesting. You should be modded up. Still doesn't really speak to the idea of having emotional distress of a public figure grounds for criminal prosecution. Even assholes get legal protection.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Does it matter? The public official got his revenge on the twitter user. Even the best possible outcome of this situation will not save the twitter user from spending months, if not years defending this, and thousands of dollars of his own money.

      Prosecutors, lawyers, judges, and politicians all too often get away with wielding the courts as a weapon. We need a way to hold them accountable for this. Any time a prosecutor tries to exceed his constitutional authority, he should be punished. Seriously pun

      • Toss the Public Official in jail for felony false whatever we can come up with. That way, they can't even vote ever again.

    • After learning that corporations are people too, and have rights, and that money is speech, so restricting the amount of politicans that corporations can buy is unconstitutional, I'd say that anything can be made constitutional. All it requires is absurd interpretation of the constitution and/or reality.
  • Haha (Score:5, Interesting)

    by afidel (530433) on Monday August 01, 2011 @02:35PM (#36950506)
    I swear the prosecution must not like the law because that's an obvious setup to have it struck down on first amendment grounds. It's like the perfect test case to get the law thrown out, especially with the current supreme court and their love of allowing anything under the auspices of political speech.
    • Do you know what was said? I followed all the links, but I didn't see what was said.

    • by artor3 (1344997)

      I don't know... despite my best efforts, I was unable to find what statements the defendant made that violated this law. If it was to the effect of "Jane Doe lives at 123 4th Street, Apt 16, and is alone Tuesday nights, maybe I'll go teach her a lesson" then I'd say this is a perfectly reasonable use of an anti-stalking law that was expanded under the Violence Against Women Act of 2005. If it was more along the lines of "Man, that Jane Doe is such a bitch" then it will surely be thrown out, but that won'

  • Hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday August 01, 2011 @02:38PM (#36950542)
    Your favorite band sucks. Yo mamma so fat. You're stupid, retarded, a pathetic waste of oxygen! You're so--hangon a sec, gotta get the door...
  • I don't understand why public figures are supposed to be protected against any kind of accusations. Their actions are not private, they affect large numbers of people. Interests of those people, and imbalance of power that makes it possible to inflict harm on the population, leave absolutely no reason, other than public interest itself, to protect a public figure from accusations or criticism.

    • by webheaded (997188)
      Because the people making the laws are the ones that don't want anyone to criticize them?
    • by webheaded (997188)
      Because the people making the laws are the same people that don't want anyone to criticize them?
      • by webheaded (997188)
        Ugh, I hate Slashdot's new designs sometimes. I tried posting once and it looked completely screwed up and as if it hadn't been posted twice and then both posts appeared.
  • More details: (Score:5, Informative)

    by arnott (789715) on Monday August 01, 2011 @02:50PM (#36950700)

    In February, William Lawrence Cassidy was indicted for interstate stalking, a felony charge. The indictment stated that Cassidy used Twitter to “engage in a course of contact that caused substantial emotional distress” to an unnamed person.

    According to court documents, the person was Alyce Zeoli, the leader of a Buddhist organization known as Kunzang Palyul Choling. Cassidy was allegedly a member of KPC before having a falling out with Zeoli, who is known as Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo to KPC members. After the split, he began directing several thousand public Twitter messages toward Zeoli, some of which were threatening, according to prosecutors.

    Twitter case [law360.com]

    • by westlake (615356)
      >>After the split, he began directing several thousand public Twitter messages toward Zeoli, some of which were threatening, according to prosecutors. Several thousand abusive messages. In the American system, the roots of free speech lie in the desire for open and public political debate without fear of government interference. But there has always been the contrarian impulse to keep that debate civilized --- and not to carry it over into a man's private life. Malice is out of bounds. Harassment
    • Dialogue and critical thinking are valuable gifts we share as sentient beings. Freedom of belief and freedom of expression are valuable rights we cherish in our democracy. Hatred and violent threats, however, are neither valuable nor right. In recent years, Jetsunma and KPC have been threatened repeatedly and made the target of hateful, homophobic and misogynistic epithets.These threats were reported to law enforcement and, following a full investigation conducted by FBI and U.S. Department of Justice, federal criminal charges were filed in the case of United States v. William Cassidy, 8:11-cr-00091 and he has been charged with cyberstalking.

      http://www.tibetanbuddhistaltar.org/2011/06/united-states-v-william-cassidy-811-cr-00091/ [tibetanbuddhistaltar.org]

      There is a fine, fine line... it's very difficult to get close to without distorting it. Even if this is the correct course of action in this case, the fact that that course has to be followed spells trouble for the future, where less serious offenses may be attacked in the same way.

      I'm with the Buddhists in that hate and violent speech is neither valuable nor right; however, I feel that some protection for expres

    • My first reaction was "Tweeting criticism of a public figure is Freedom of Speech! End of Case."

      However, if this guy did indeed send several thousand public messages to Zeoli, including many that were threatening, then I could see where a case could be built. Just because you have Freedom of Speech doesn't mean you have the freedom to harass and threaten.

  • Dark Future (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 01, 2011 @02:54PM (#36950746)

    So let me get this straight. You can be sued for criticism of a public figure, something clearly covered by the 1st Amendment.

    I'm sure that if people like this "public figure" had their way it would be a criminal offense, punishable by x years in jail.

    On the other hand, actual murderers are being released from overcrowded jails. This is going to start people thinking that instead of using words, they should use a gun. Might end up with a lesser sentence.

    Just a thought.

    • by sharkey (16670)
      You can sue anyone for just about anything, but that's not what this is about. This man is not being sued, he is facing criminal prosecution at the Federal level for saying something that made someone unhappy.
  • by Animats (122034) on Monday August 01, 2011 @02:58PM (#36950780) Homepage

    This seems to be a feud between some cult and someone who doesn't like the cult. For once, it's not Scientology. It's some offshoot of Buddhism.

    One side of the argument can be seen here. [wordpress.com] An old article about William Cassidy [lasvegassun.com] may provide some background.

    As far as I can tell from a superficial reading, both sites are nutcases.

  • by idontgno (624372) on Monday August 01, 2011 @02:58PM (#36950784) Journal

    "What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist."
    --Salman Rushdie

  • I know plenty will say that it's not germane to the case itself regarding defense of free speech, but... WTF did this guy say in his "tweet", and about whom?

    • Hear hear. I've read every link I've seen here, but I can't find what was actually tweeted. The specific text that was tweeted is very important and I haven't been able to find it yet. There are a few very narrow areas of unprotected speech: overt threats and intimidation (which isn't really speech, but an underlying behavior). About whom, however, is completely irrelevant. The 14th amendment provides for equal protection of the laws. Calling someone a "public figure" is just a distraction from the fu

  • If the victim is a reincarnate master of Tibetan Buddhism, shouldn't she be impervious to emotional distress? (Yes, sometimes it pays to RTFA)
    • by PRMan (959735)
      "That pesky universe is acting up again... It's a good thing I'm above it--wait! What did he say?!?"
  • I read the EFF filing and the definition of a public figure in this case is a woman who has a verified twitter account with 17,221 followers and who posted videos on a service like Youtube which had 143,000 views. This public figure holds no political office and appears to be outspoken about her religious beliefs.

    I noticed that the actual contents of the tweets aren't documented in the EFF filing. As tenuous as their assertion about this involving a public figure, I'd like to see the actual tweets before a

  • What did he say about her? I think there needs to be a retwitting campaign (plus postings to other social networking sites).

    This assumes that she filed the complaint that started the proceedings and the prosecution isn't just doing it on their own.

To thine own self be true. (If not that, at least make some money.)

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