Is It Cyberstalking To Tweet 8,000 Times Telling Someone To “Go Kill Yourself”?

The courts are going to have to decide whether a man’s 8,000 inflammatory, angry and distressing tweets sent to a Buddhist leader are considered cyberstalking or part of the First Amendment. But the case is far from black-and-white.

William Lawrence Cassidy claimed to be a reincarnated Buddhist leader when he joined Alyce Zeoli’s Buddhist group in 2007. He also told the group that he had lung cancer.

They cared for him for a time, and even gave him a position on the group’s executive team.

Over time, however, Cassidy’s claims started to develop some holes, and after Zeoli and her group discovered that his so-called cancer wasn’t real, he left the group. And then he started tweeting.

Zeoli has over 23,000 followers and is quite active on Twitter. So, despite the physical distance between Zeoli in Maryland and Cassidy in California, Cassidy was able to reach her, day and night, through his tweets.

“Do the world a favor and go kill yourself. P.S. Have a nice day.”

“Ya like haiku? Here’s one for ya. Long limb, sharp saw, hard drop.”

“A thousand voices call out to (Victim 1) and she cannot shut off the silent scream.”

The angry, disturbing tweets poured in shortly after Cassidy left the group. Cassidy is accused of posting over 8,000 tweets between December 2009 and January 2010.

The case, brought to the courts by the FBI, will be a landmark in defining just what social media really is.

If you send an @mention to someone on Twitter, is that a private, one-to-one correspondence? Or is it still a public forum? The distinction matters, because the former, if used to send hateful and threatening messages, could be considered stalking in the Cassidy case, while the latter would likely be protected by the First Amendment.

Via The New York Times