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August 29, 2011

8,000 Menacing Posts

An August 28  article by Somini Sengupta highlights the intersection between free speech and social media. The New York Times article, "Case of 8,000 Menancing Posts Tests Limits of Twitter Speech,"  involves efforts by William Lawrence Cassidty to harass a woman, Alyce Zeoli, by posting thousands of threatening and defamatory Twitter posts. He was charged with online stalking, on the theory that his posts caused emotional distress to the victim. 

Cyberstalking laws are, accordingly to the article rarely enforced. The prosecution in this case raises a question about the precise nature of information posted on social networks -- are they better viewed as private communications between parties, or public statements like newspaper articles. 

The more social networks are viewed as public forums, the greater the first amendment protections that could apply. The article states, “the defense has taken pains to point out that across the Internet, people post things that may cause emotional distress to others: an unkind review of a book on Amazon, even an unvarnished assessment by a college student on RateMyProfessors.com.”

For an EDD standpoint, note that Twitter, in response to a subpoena, revealed the IP address of the computer used to post the messages – information that allowed law enforcement to locate the accused.  This raises an additional First Amendment issue, as the disclosure of the author of seemingly anonymous posts to law enforcement is likely to have a chilling effect on future anonymous posters about controversial subjects. 

 

 

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