Twitter: Issues and Law

    Twitter cigarette

  •  Introduction to Current Issues
  • Twitters' rapid growth and adoption has produced a number of policy and legal issues.
  • Issue 1: Cyberstalking
  • cyberstalking
  •  One area that raises policy and legal concerns relates to cyberstalking, which is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, or a group of people. This can take on many forms, from an angry ex to pedophiles. The concept of cyberstalking is closely related to cyber-bullying and, as a result, has gained nationwide attention as of late. Even though the ways in which people stalk via the internet are constantly changing and adapting, laws on both the state and federal level have done a very poor job of keeping up.
  • An example of which can be found in the following case:

  •  Case: Lawyers get Cyberstalked, via Twitter
  • Background: Wayne Connely, a California man, was very angry at criticism he received from Mark Bennett, a lawyer who accused Connely of manufacturing fake Twitter accounts to redirect traffic to a website that Connely managed. Using Twitter to retaliate against Bennett, Connely created a series of fake accounts to continuously stalk and harass Bennett through offensive messages. Not content with solely harassing Bennett, Connely's cyber-vendetta expanded to include an ever-growing list of lawyers he followed and harassed.

  • Source:

  • Question: What laws or policies are in place that would cover this type of behavior?

  • Response 1: Twitter Acceptable Use Policy

  • Terms of Service-

  • Important sections:

    1. Privacy
    2. Content on the Services
    3. Your Rights

  •  Response 2: Legislation at the Federal and State Levels

  • Federal level:

  • At the federal level: 47 USC 223- Covers obscene or harassing telephone calls in the District of Columbia or in interstate or foreign communications. The definition of “telecommunications device” in the law includes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet.

  •    Keep in mind: No explicit provision exists covering Internet or cyberspace stalking, which makes prosecution more difficult than it could be.
  • Many states have revised their laws to include Internet stalking, typically by expanding traditional stalking definitions to include electronic forms of communications.
  •  Source:
  • Issue 2: Defamation

  • Angry computer guy

    Would a Tweet qualify under libel laws? Can a person sue for defamation based on Twitter messages? This is one of the areas that the law is currently exploring.

  •  Defamation Laws

  • 1) There are no federal defamation laws.

  • 2) 17 states have criminal defamation laws, including North Carolina.

  • 3)  Communications Decency Act: 47 U.S.C. 230: Offers limited immunity to users and service providers of interactive computer services for third party content.

  •  i. The defendant must be a "provider or user" of an "interactive computer service.

  •  ii. The cause of action brought by the plaintiff must "treat" the defendant "as the publisher or speaker" of the harmful information at issue.

  • iii. The information must be "provided by another information content provider."

  •  Source:

  • Case

  •  Horizon Group Management, LLC v Amanda Bonnen, Cook County No. 2009 L 867:
  • Libel suit brought by Horizon Group Management, a reality company, against a tenant who had posted a Tweet on May 12, 2009, to her friends that said, “You should just come anyway. Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's ok.” Horizon sought $50,000 in damages. Dismissed on January 21, 2010, judge felt the message was too vague to meet the definition of libel.

  • Source: Link to complaint- Complaint.pdf

  • Issue 3: Impersonation

  • Introduction: The rise in fake Twitter accounts has been a concern for celebrities and businesses. Twitter has begun to address this issue with the creation of “Verified Account” status for limited numbers of individuals, which serves to indicate that a Twitter account belongs to the person who it claims to be. Because there is no verification process at the creation of an account, multiple accounts can pop up, all claiming to be the same person. When this person is a public figure or celebrity, tweets coming from this account can cause problems, especially if they say anything inflammatory, controversial, or misleading.


  • Legal response in state law

  •  State law has begun to address the problem of online impersonation.

  • One example can be found in California Bill- SB 1411, which was signed into law on September 27, 2010; It reads:

  •  528.5. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any person who knowingly and without consent credibly impersonates another actual person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person is guilty of a public offense punishable pursuant to subdivision (d).
    (d) A violation of subdivision (a) is punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

  •  Cases:

  • LaRussa v. Twitter (3:09-cv-02503-EMC): Anthony LaRussa, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, sued Twitter after an unknown Twitter user created an account at and post updates posing as La Russa. The fake Twitter page included La Russa's photo and a handful of vulgar and apparently Cardinals-related updates. One line of the "profile" suggested it was all a fake: "Bio Parodies are fun for everyone." Case was settled out of court.

  • Link to complaint: Russa Complaint.pdf
      After Jordan Shipley was signed by the Cincinatti Bengals, Chad Ochocinco sent a congratulatory tweet to what he thought was Shipley’s Twitter account. When Shipley didn’t respond, Ochocino tweeted an angry message. The only problem was, the account was fake. When this was figured out, the rift was mended. Shipley said, “It is a little scary that people can get on there and say what they want to, and people don't know that it's not you. They can make it look just like it was mine.”


  • Issue 4: Privacy
  • Privacy
  •  One of the biggest concerns with a site like Twitter relates to the issue of privacy. A typical question that users may have is: “How much of my information is actually safe?” Users can make their timelines private, but once a tweet is re-tweeted by another user, it irreversibly becomes public. Further, you can geo-tag your tweets, letting followers know where you are (i.e. where you AREN’T... like at your house).

  • What information posted on Twitter is truly private?

  • Cases

  • 1. In 2008, users accessing Twitter through third-party applications discovered that their direct messages were part of their public timeline.

  • 2.   In 2008, the Twitter accounts of a number of celebrities and public figures, including President Obama and Britney Spears, were hacked and inappropriate messages were posted.

  • 3. In 2010, Twitter settled charges from the FTC alleging that Twitter deceived customers and did not protect their private information. Two separate security breaches occurred, resulting in compromised passwords and hackers gaining administrative control of Twitter.

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