Bully Pulpit

Do cyber bullies have privacy rights? That’s the question posed in an Illinois case where parents of a teenage victim of nasty tweets want Twitter to provide user identification of the people who sent the hateful messages. Rose Martorana-Lollino claims her daughter was the subject of a bullying campaign headed up by whoever is behind the user names @dreadfullyLARGE and @dreadfulFATchic. Tweets include statements like “my passion is being fat” and “hi, my passion is gaining weight.”

Experts contend that Twitter may not be able to comply with the information request due to its own Privacy Policy and the federal Stored Communications Act. Perhaps.  Or perhaps not.

On the Privacy Police issue, it is true that Twitter’s policy says: “We may share or disclose your information at your direction, such as when you authorize a third-party web client or application to access your Twitter account.”  But the same policy also says:

“Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Policy, we may preserve or disclose your information if we believe that it is reasonably necessary to comply with a law, regulation or legal request; to protect the safety of any person; to address fraud, security or technical issues; or to protect Twitter’s rights or property.” So is the teenage victim’s safety at issue here? It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable argument. 

And the Stored Communications Act may or may not protect the bullies. That Act protects from disclosure the contents of electronic messages, and limits the availability of customer information. But the Act allows the provider to disclose subscriber information with the “lawful consent of the user.”  So, did the bullies consent to disclosure under the Privacy Policy? Interesting question. If not, the mom may have a tough time. Because while the Act permits disclosure pursuant to court order, it is only in the context of a criminal proceeding. Assuming the mom’s action is civil, the Act seems to prohibit disclosure even if she obtains a court order.

I’m not sure whether there are any Illinois criminal laws that come into play here.  Being cruel is in itself not a crime. I hope the mom is able to get to the bottom of this. I’m all for privacy, but those rights ought to take a back seat when bullies abuse them.