With Major League Baseball's Spring Training in full swing and teams readying their opening day rosters for the season kicking off on April 5th, you would expect all baseball-related news to be about which teams will be contending and which young players will burst onto the scene. While you can find many articles discussing just those things (Go Cubs!), one such story involves a former MLB pitcher, Curt Schilling, and his Twitter-based reaction to a series of Twitter users who directed some questionable tweets at Schilling's 17-year-old daughter.
The tweets at issue followed a February 25th, 2015 tweet by Schilling (@gehrig38) congratulating his daughter "who will pitch for the Salve Regina Seahawks next year." What followed is unfortunately not uncommon on Twitter or the internet generally. A handful of users began spewing hateful and hurtful comments at Schilling and about his daughter. Some of those tweets were sexual in nature and, to put it mildly, harassing. Schilling decided to take matters into his own hands and began addressing those tweets and the specific users on his personal website. In some instances, he brought the tweets to the attention of some of the users' employers.
In response, Twitter identified and deactivated nine users' accounts and, following the publicity surrounding the exchanges, a few of those individuals lost their jobs once their employers determined they were involved in the harassment of Schilling and his minor daughter. One man had been employed by the New York Yankees, as a ticket broker, and another was a student at a local community college. The ticket broker was terminated by the Yankees and the student was suspended from his school. Two of the men that were allegedly sending these harassing tweets are located in New Jersey and Schilling has stated that he will "pursue to the fullest extent of the law [his] ability to prosecute" these men for their actions.
In the meantime, while each state's cyber-harassment laws differ, it makes sense to take a look at what New Jersey's laws set forth. A person commits cyber-harassment much the same as a traditional harassment scenario, which involves a communication with a purpose to harass another, either through a physical threat to inflict an injury or commit a crime against the person, or by conveying lewd, indecent or obscene materials with such purpose as to emotionally harm another. The law reads as follows:
N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1. Cyber-harassment
a. A person commits the crime of cyber-harassment if, while making a communication in an online capacity via any electronic device or through a social networking site and with the purpose to harass another, the person:
(1) threatens to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or the property of any person;
(2) knowingly sends, posts, comments, requests, suggests, or proposes any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person with the intent to emotionally harm a reasonable person or place a reasonable person in fear of physical or emotional harm to his person; or
(3) threatens to commit any crime against the person or the person’s property.
Obviously, this statute is just my best guess at what Schilling likely has in mind for his “legal action,” but subsection (a)(2) seems to be the most likely avenue for potential criminal charges. As with any state, Schilling wouldn’t be able to bring criminal charges himself, but would instead look to the state prosecutor to do so on his and his daughter’s behalf. What Schilling’s actual legal action (perhaps something civil?) ends up being remains to be seen, but this is definitely something that we will keep an eye on and follow up on when more becomes known.
- Matt Campobasso