George Zimmerman’s Twitter account was suspended on Thursday, after the man who was acquitted of criminal charges for killing teenager Trayvon Martin posted what he said were semi-nude photographs of an ex-girlfriend, along with her email address and phone number.
In the tweets, which are now inaccessible along with Zimmerman’s entire Twitter account, Zimmerman accused the woman of sleeping with a “dirty Muslim” and of stealing from him. The tweets were accompanied by two photographs of a semi-nude woman. His account was suspended shortly after the tweets — which we’re not reproducing here — were posted.
A spokesperson for Twitter said that the social network doesn’t comment on individual Twitter accounts, citing privacy and security reasons, but pointed us to the company’s policy banning the posting of confidential information, including “revenge porn.”
That policy specifically prohibits the nonconsenual posting of “non-public, personal phone numbers,” “non-public, personal email addresses” and “intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject’s consent.”
The Intersect wasn’t able to confirm the identity of the woman pictured or to whom the number and email address belongs. A call to the phone number went directly to a voice mail for a woman with the same name Zimmerman used in his tweet. Late on Thursday, the Intersect received a text message from that number indicating that the person would make a statement to the media on the matter “once the dust clears.”
Some have questioned whether Zimmerman’s tweets could get him in more serious trouble than an account suspension. As of October, Florida is one of a couple dozen states to have laws on the books banning “revenge porn,” or the nonconsensual distribution of compromising photographs and personal information. But at least one expert on Florida’s law says that the measure probably doesn’t apply to Zimmerman’s tweets.
“Zimmerman’s actions probably do not violate Florida’s revenge porn law. That law only applies to images that depict the person’s nudity or engagement in sexual conduct,” said Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami and legislative and tech policy director of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. Franks has advised more than two dozen states on legislation protecting sexual privacy. She advised Florida on the drafting of their new cyber privacy law, she said, but was “quite critical of the final product.”
Florida law has a very specific definition of “nudity,” Franks added, one that does not appear to be met by the photographs Zimmerman published.
“Its possible,” Franks said, “that Zimmerman may have researched the law to make sure that he didn’t violate it.” She pointed to a snapshot of this now inaccessible tweet, apparently from Zimmerman’s account:
It is also possible that Zimmerman’s tweets could be considered in violation of other cyberharassment or stalking laws at the state and federal level and could open up Zimmerman to civil action. Here’s Franks, again:
Federal law prohibits an individual from using “the mail, any interactive computer service or electronic communication service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce, or any other facility of interstate or foreign commerce” to engage in a course of conduct that causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress with the intent to, among other things, harass or intimidate another person.
The woman would also potentially have grounds for civil action, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, publication of private facts, and/or, if the allegations aren’t true, defamation.
26 states now have revenge porn laws on the books, according to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. There are several challenges in legislating and prosecuting cyber harassment, said Kaofeng Lee, the Deputy Director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence in an email, but overall, things are “generally improving.”
That’s in part because of increased attention on the issue of revenge porn, Lee added, “at the same time, though, I think that the misuse of technology to stalk and abuse is also increasing too – mostly because technology is such a big part of everyone’s life.”
Zimmerman’s Twitter suspension comes one day after a Florida appellate court threw out his libel suit against NBC Universal.
[This post has been updated multiple times]
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