After Curt Schilling said he received a barrage of vulgar and sexually explicit comments online about his underage daughter, the former major league pitcher publicly identified two New Jersey men among the alleged perpetrators and pledged topursue whatever legal recourse possible.
Schilling has described some of the messages, which he said included references to rape, as criminal. The former pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks told CBS "there is going to be, potentially, legal implications with a couple of these. They were that bad."
When asked if he planned to press charges, Schilling said, "I plan to pursue all legal options."
What are those options?
Lawyers who specialize in cybersecurity and cybercrime said there are federal and state laws governing online harassment under which criminal prosecution is possible. Whether those laws could be used to charge any of the men allegedly involved in this incident depends on the substance of their messages, and how and to whom they were sent, experts said, noting that offensive language still enjoys Constitutional protection.
But that protection comes with limits.
"We have this misperception that freedom of speech is an absolute right," said Marie-Helen Maras, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who specializes in cybersecurity. "There are certain things that are deemed beyond protected speech: true threats, for instance."
Curt Schilling outs Yankees worker who allegedly posted vulgar tweets
Maras points to federal statutes that cover cyber harassment, including one that makes it a crime to transmit any communication in interstate or foreign commerce containing a threat to injure another person.
Another federal statute that is used to prosecute cyber harassment only covers cases that involve direct communication between the perpetrator and victim. Maras said the law does not appear to cover posts on bulletin boards and social networking posts, which means it would not apply to the Twitter messages sent about Schilling's daughter.
Schilling, however, wrote on his blog that "there have been personal tweets, texts and emails to more than one party in all this."
Cyber harassment statutes also exist at the state level, including a law enacted in New Jersey last year.
The statute makes it a crime to use any electronic device or social networking site to threaten to injure or commit a crime against a person or their property or to send posts or comments with 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."
Massachusetts, where the Schillings live, also has a law covering cyber harassment.
But whether those laws could be used against any of the men who allegedly attacked Schilling's underage daughter online remains to be seen. Schilling told CBS he had been contacted by the FBI -- which said they don't comment about whether an investigation exists or not -- and local law enforcement agencies that he did not identify.
After hearing some of the language two New Jersey residents allegedly posted on Twitter, Danielle Keats Citron, a professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and author of "Hate Crimes in Cyberspace," said she didn't think the law would get involved for those messages.
"The language in that tweet, it's really ugly. It's offensive and disgusting," Citron said. "I would probably say it's not criminal."
Civil action is another possibility but one that experts said also poses challenges.
Bernard Bell, a professor at Rutgers Law School in Newark, said the Schillings may be able to pursue intentional infliction of emotional distress but "there has to be actual severe emotional distress."
Still, he said, you have a "First Amendment problem to deal with because it is speech and even as insensitive as it is I'm not sure it's clearly unprotected speech."
The two New Jersey men Schilling outed on his blog have already face other consequences: one has been suspended from college and the other was fired from his part-time job with the New York Yankees. Schilling said others have also faced repercussions for their behavior.
Schilling did not respond to a request for an interview left with his representative last week.
Schilling wrote on his blog that he did not feel bad or sympathize with those individuals.
"Whatever is their result is 100 percent on them," he wrote. "No one asked them to do it, no one forced them to do it, they made sexually aggressive and sexually explicit comments at and to my 17 year old daughter."