Yes, Personal Facebook Posts can be Harassment

Hack de overheid by Sebastiaan ter Burg from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hack de overheid by Sebastiaan ter Burg from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A friend recently directed me to a post on Facebook that included a question about the following:

I have a friend who is having some legal problems that started from a facebook post called “harrassment by communication” for something that was written on their own PERSONAL facebook page. 

This is my interpretation of this statement: This person’s friend is being a accused of wrongdoing because of a post Friend made on Friend’s personal Facebook page.

That can absolutely happen. If you talk about another person on your social media profile, the fact that it was made on your page and not the target’s does not shield you from the repercussions. It would be similar if you were yelling about a person while standing on your own front law vs a street corner. You’re still making a statement about a person. The fact that you have more control over your lawn than a public street corner doesn’t change whether the content of your statement is illegal.

It would a different situation if we were talking about a statement Friend made in Friend’s private diary they keep in their bedside table. In that situation, I wouldn’t expect anyone to find out what Friend wrote as long as he/she kept it private. There is no expectation of privacy in anything anyone posts on social media, regardless of your privacy settings. This is why I tell everyone to treat every post on social media as if it’s going to end up on a billboard or the front page of the newspaper.

Arizona has criminal laws against cyberharassment and harassment. They both involve communicating with a person with the intent to harass them or with the knowledge that the person was being harassed. The laws do not put limits on from where that harassment can occur. Both crimes are Class 1 misdemeanors, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and up to a $2,500 fine.

Additionally, I would expect the terms of service for every social media platform to include a provision that forbids users to the site to harass other users and doing so could result in the suspension or termination of the offender’s account.

Carter Law Firm's Postcards

Carter Law Firm’s Postcards

I have no idea if Friend referenced above did anything wrong or if he/she is merely being accused of doing something wrong. I can only say that Friend may have committed some type of harassment depending on the facts of the situation. The fact that they made the post in question from their personal page does nothing to protect them from the legal implications of their statements. The First Amendment does not shield you from the criminal consequences of your actions and there is no expectation of privacy on any social media platform.

Think before you post – because the consequences of your speech can be severe.

On the flip side, I tell people if they are being harassed online to document all the instances and take screenshots of all the offending posts – particularly in situations where the person who is making the statements are doing so from their own profile because you never know if/when they might re-think their actions and delete them.

If you need a resource that explains the legal dos and don’ts of social media in plain English, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you need a resource to help protect yourself against harassment and cyberharassment, I recommend The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.

If you want to chat more about freedom of speech and cyberharassment, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

New Trial in Crystal Cox Defamation Case – What Does It Mean for Bloggers?

First Amendment to the US Constitution by elPadawan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

First Amendment to the US Constitution by elPadawan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that Crystal Cox will get a new trial for the defamation lawsuit that was filed against her. Cox calls herself an “investigative blogger” and she wrote a blog post where she accused Oregon bankruptcy attorney Kevin Padrick and his company, Obsidian Finance Group LLC of committing “fraud, corruption, money-laundering and other illegal activities.” Padrick sued Cox for defamation and an Oregon court awarded him $2.5 million in damages.

In general, defamation requires a false statement about a person communicated to a third party that hurts that person’s reputation. Based on this definition, it’s easy to see how a blogger could be accused of defamation if someone suspects the blogger is lying about them in a post. The court applies different standards for different situations involving situations which will affect whether the author has committed defamation and what damages can be awarded.

A court may award compensatory damages to make up for the person’s damaged reputation and punitive damages to punish the person who committed the defamation.

Here are the three standards that can apply in a defamation case.

  • Defamation of a public person: The alleged victim must prove that the author knew or should have known they were lying when they made the statement in question – only compensatory damages available.
  • Defamation of a private person regarding a manner of public concern: Punitive damages are available in addition to compensatory damages if the alleged victim can prove that the author was negligent in making the statement.
  • Defamation of a private person regarding a matter that is not of public concern: Compensatory and punitive damages are available if the alleged victim can show that the statement was false and damaged their reputation.

It appears the lower court applied the standard for defamation of a private person regarding a matter that is not of public concern and the court of appeals ruled that they should have used the standard for defamation of a private person regarding a manner of public concern because the public has an interest regarding whether an attorney is corrupt and committing fraud. So the parties will have to settle the case between themselves or have a new trial and use the correct standard. But note, there is no dispute about whether the statement in question was defamatory, only what standard the court is supposed to use to decide the case.

Some people are calling this ruling a huge victory for bloggers because it states that the same defamation standards for journalists apply to blogging – and I’m going to respectfully disagree.  The landmark defamation cases may have started with journalists, but we don’t have different defamation laws for journalists and everyone else. (If this were a Shield Law case, it would be different.) There have been other defamation cases against non-journalists where the court applied the same standards. The fact that this might be the first time a court has said that bloggers can write about matters of public concern is an indicator of how few defamation cases go to trial more than anything else. No real new information has come out of this ruling by the Ninth Circuit.

This case is a good reminder about where you can be sued because of your blog. If you do something wrong via your blog and you get sued, the alleged victim is going to sue you in their state and under their state’s laws. In this case, Cox was living in Montana when she made the original statements and she had to travel to Oregon to defend herself under Oregon’s laws.

If you want more information about internet defamation, please check out my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It has an entire chapter dedicated to online defamation. You can connected with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

What the Yelp Lawsuits Mean for You

People Hate Us on Yelp by danoxster from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

People Hate Us on Yelp by danoxster from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

There are a few lawsuits going on right now involving reviews on Yelp. If you are a business owner who is concerned about what people might post about you or a person who likes to post reviews of products and services online, you should be paying attention.

In the first case, the court ordered Yelp to reveal the identities of seven anonymous account holders who are being accused of posting false negative reviews about a business. The owner of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning filed the defamation lawsuit claiming that these people were not customers. Posting reviews of companies you haven’t used is also a violation of Yelp’s terms of service.

The First Amendment protects people’s right to share their opinions, including anonymously. However, it doesn’t protect against defamatory speech. The challenge with anonymous speech is you could be unmasked if you do something wrong or if someone builds a strong case that you could be wrong. These cases are hard because the owner doesn’t know who is posting the anonymous review so they can’t cross check the review with their customer records so they often have to sue to identify the person so they can determine if they’ve been illegally harmed.  This case doesn’t concern me too much as long as the court is applying the proper standards to determine if the plaintiff has shown enough evidence of harm that would warrant a subpoena to reveal the posters’ identities.

In the second case, a contracting company is suing a former customer for $750K for defamation after she posted a negative review on Yelp where she claimed her “home was damaged, she was billed for work that wasn’t done and jewelry went missing after she hired” the company. Defamation generally requires a false statement about a person or entity that’s communicated to a third party, and that hurts the person or entity’s reputation. In this case, the owner claims the review has cost his company business, so there’s his damage. If anything in her review is untrue and led to the drop in business, that’s likely defamation.

Some people are concerned that these cases will prohibit people from posting negative reviews online, even when they are accurate. Given how many Yelp reviews have been posted and how few lawsuits have come out of them, I don’t think this should be a significant concern for Yelpers. I think these cases provide good lessons regarding internet law and etiquette:

  1. If you’re going to post reviews online, make sure you only share your accurate opinion. (BTW – Federal law requires you to only post your honest and accurate opinions.)
  2. The First Amendment protects your right to speak anonymously; however, if someone suspects your speech has harmed them, they may have to sue to get a subpoena for the website to reveal your identity to determine if they’ve been harmed. If you use your real name, they can cross check your review with their records.
  3. If you are a business owner, take care of your customers. If you treat them badly, have low quality products, or provide poor service, they will call you out online.

I also made a video about how to respond to bad reviews online from a legal perspective:

Most states have laws against strategic lawsuits against public participation, called anti-SLAPP laws. These are laws against filing lawsuits that are intended just to shut you up, not to address a situation where a person was legally harmed. If someone files a defamation lawsuit against you because of an online review and you feel like you’re being falsely accused, you should check to see if your state has an anti-SLAPP law.  

If you want more information about internet defamation, please check out my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It has an entire chapter dedicated to online defamation. You can connected with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Courtney Love Wins her Twitter Defamation Case – What Does It Mean For You?

Courtney at the Tabernacle by Katjusa Cisar from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Courtney at the Tabernacle by Katjusa Cisar from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Last week, a California jury reached a verdict in the Courtney Love Twitter defamation case – the first Twitter defamation case to go to trial. Love hired attorney Rhonda Holmes to represent her in a fraud case against the people who were managing Kurt Cobain’s estate. Their professional relationship didn’t work out, and in 2010, Love posted a tweet that said in part, “I was f***ing devestated [sic] when Rhonda J. Holmes esq. of san diego was bought off.” Holmes sued Love for defamation.

In general, defamation requires a false statement about a person told to a third party, that hurts that person’s reputation. Essentially, Holmes argument was that the tweet was lie and that it damaged her reputation. Defamation is a state-law issue so check how the law is written in your state.

Initially, I was surprised when I saw that Love won this lawsuit, until I read the full article. Then I made a video explaining why Courtney Love won this defamation case.

The law applies different standard to defamation involving public persons versus private persons. When a public person is defamed, the victim can prevail if she can prove that the person making the statement acted with malice – meaning they knew or should have known that they were lying when they made the statement. When a private person claims they were defamed, they only have to show that there was a lie about them that hurt their reputation.  

Holmes isn’t a celebrity lawyer. She’s just a person. You might think that Holmes would be treated like a private person, but the court said she was a public person in regards to this case because of her affiliation with Love. (Some people are public people all the time – i.e., celebrities – and some people are public figures only regarding certain issues.) Here, the jury believed Love when she said she didn’t know she was lying when she made the statement, so that’s why she won the case.

So what does this mean for you? This case suggests that you can be Joe Average Nobody (private person) in your day-to-day life but if you are affiliated with a celebrity, you can be a public person in regards to your dealings with them. If you claim that your celebrity friend defamed you, you may have a higher bar to clear than if you were defamed by your Joe Average Nobody friend.

Here’s something else to think about – celebrities are public people because they put themselves into  the public spotlight. If you are “internet famous” or put yourself online for all to see via your blog, YouTube channel, or on other social media platforms, you may become a public person. When you’re a public person, you can expect more criticism and the law will protect your critics against defamation claims as long as they didn’t know or couldn’t have known that they were lying about you when they did it.

There is no cut-and-dry equation to determine whether you are a public or private person in regards to a defamation case unless you are an obvious celebrity. So if you are ever file a defamation lawsuit, part of the trial might be just determine whether you are a public or private person in the circumstances of the case to determine which standard applies.

If you want more information about internet defamation, please check out my book,  The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It has an entire chapter dedicated to online defamation. You can connected with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Creepy New Facebook Terms of Service Coming

Facebook Flower by mkhmarketing from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Facebook Flower by mkhmarketing from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

When I got the notice that Facebook was updating its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and its Data Use Policy, I didn’t think much of it. If you want to use their service, you’re stuck with their terms of service. I just made a mental note to verify that my privacy changes hadn’t changed when they roll out the new policies go into effect. But then a friend told me about some of the changes that made me take a closer look.

Facebook says, “Your privacy is very important to us.” That doesn’t mean they care about keeping your information private. That just means they’re telling you how they’re using it.

Facebook previous terms of service put us on notice that they treat your name and profile picture like public information and they basically track all of your activities on the Facebook site and mobile app – this includes when others’ tag you in a photo, status update, at a location, or if someone adds you to a group.  And don’t think about creating a profile with fake information because that’s against the rules too. When you post a photo on Facebook, you give them a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use” it however they want. If you delete a photo, the license ends, unless it’s been shared with others and they haven’t deleted it.

Facebook: The privacy saga continues by opensourceway from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Facebook: The privacy saga continues by opensourceway from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Now here’s something interesting, the old rules state you can’t tag anyone on Facebook without their consent. When’s the last time your friend asked for your permission to tag you? Facebook says tell your friends if you’re ok with them tagging you and if they refuse to respect your desire not to be tagged, then block them. (Blocking = no tagging for you)

So what’s going to be changing with Facebook? Well, they’re going to add a facial recognition program that will scan people’s photos and suggest friends to tag by comparing the photos to others’ profile pictures and other photos where you’ve been tagged. Does that sound a little Big Brother to anyone else?

I’m guessing this change is going to piss off a lot of people who know about it. I get hits on the law firm’s website every day from people who want to know if and how others can post pictures of them online or whether they can post pictures of others online. Every day.

I wonder how many people are going to change their profile picture to a photo of their pet and disallow all other tagging to avoid Facebook suggesting friends tag them when others post pictures of them. I bet more people will talk about this idea more than will actually do it.

And I don’t think this is a change but more of a clarification. The new rules say, “[Y]ou permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information, without any compensation to you.”  It’s their site and their rules, and they probably don’t care if you don’t like it.

If you don’t like these changes, you can bitch about it but accept it or delete your account. Unlike deactivating your account, this completely removes it from Facebook.

If you want more information about the legalities of social media, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you need information or advice about a situation involving your Facebook, please contact a social media attorney in your community.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

News Reporter Shea Allen Fired because of her Personal Blog

TV Camera on the grass by Simon Yeo (smjbk) from Flickr

TV Camera on the grass by Simon Yeo (smjbk) from Flickr

Shea Allen was a TV reporter in Alabama who has a personal blog. She was fired after she released a post of “No Apologies: Confessions of a Red Headed Reporter” where she, among other things, admitted she is “frightened of old people,” has “taken naps in the news car,” and that she’ll stop recording if you ramble and she deems you unnecessary for her story but let you think otherwise. You can check of her post for the full list. I’m not sure what to think of her statement that her best sources have secret crushes on her.

Shea’s boss was not impressed and fired her because the post did “irreparable harm to the station’s image.” She did an interview about the situation with Keith Yaskin from The Flip Side Communications and shared her thoughts about what happened here.

Shea doesn’t think that she should have been fired since the alleged inappropriate post appeared on her site where she’s sharing her personal views, and not representing the TV station and because she offered to take the post down once she became aware of her employer’s objections to it.

The First Amendment protects Shea’s right to free expression; however the fact that her statements were not illegal is not enough to keep her boss from firing her, at least if she was an at-will employee. At-will employees can be fired for any legal reason, including the fact that your boss doesn’t like what you posted on your personal blog as long as what you wrote about isn’t protected (i.e., your gender, race, religion, disability, etc.)

Keith hit me up for an off-the-cuff response interview and here’s what I had to say about bloggers like Shea being fired because of their blogs here.

What about the statement that she was just being funny? I believe that was her intent; however blogging gives you a voice but not necessarily a voice tone. You can’t guarantee that what’s funny to you will be seen as such by others, especially when it’s your boss reading about things that you do at work that he/she may frown upon.

I agree with Shea that her situation highlights a “gray area in social media.” It’s because of situations like this that every company needs a social media policy that provides clear dos and don’ts when possible but more importantly provides guidelines for employees when it comes to their online posts, whether they’re using the company’s social media accounts or their own. Companies should remind employees that their posts are permanent and that they should treat each post like a digital billboard that millions of people might see.

I also think that Shea’s confused about the limits of the freedom of speech. It applies to everyone in the U.S., but it doesn’t protect you from all the consequences that may occur because of what you said.

If you want more information on this topic, please check out my newly revised book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Independents Week Specials at Carter Law Firm

Carter Law Firm Independents Week 2013One of the things I love about being a solo attorney in Phoenix is I get to be part of Local First Arizona. This is an organization for locally-owned businesses and it’s a great place to meet and connect with amazing professionals in the state.

Independents Week is coming up June 30 – July 7, 2013. Local First created the Golden Coupon program for this week to celebrate these businesses and give you another reason to check out the independent businesses in your community. Dozens of businesses will be giving patrons a 20% discount if they shop with a Golden Coupon during Independents Week. Dozens of Local First members all over Arizona are participating. Check out the full list on the Local First website and my list of places I’m excited to visit on The Undeniable Ruth.

After seeing the success of last year’s Golden Coupon program, Carter Law Firm is participating in this year’s program and offering 20% off legal consultations. Since there are only so many hours in the day, the firm only requires you to contact us during Independents Week to get in on the discount. You can schedule the consultation itself anytime in July 2013 and use your Golden Coupon.

Here’s how to use your Golden Coupon with Carter Law Firm:

  1. golden-couponPrint the Golden Coupon from Local First Arizona.
  2. During Independents Week (June 30 – July 7) contact the Ruth and say you want to book a legal consultation with your Golden Coupon.
  3. Schedule you appointment for any mutually agreed upon time during July 2013.

Please note, that you should schedule an appointment to talk about your business, intellectual property, social media, or flash mob law needs. All other legal questions are outside the firm’s scope of practice.

Don’t forget to check out all the other locally owned businesses that are participating in the Golden Coupon program. This is a great opportunity to try out a new place or revisit a business you love in your community.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

New Stance on Blog Copyright Registration

Hey you! by QuinnDombrowski from Flickr

Hey you! by QuinnDombrowski from Flickr

Grrr . . . It seems like every time I call the Copyright Office with a question about blog copyrights, I have to change my stance on how and whether anyone should register their blog’s content. Mind you, when I wrote the Legal Side of Blogging last year, my research and ideas were approved by my cyberspace law professor and another internet/copyright attorney. We all got it wrong.

I used to think that bloggers should register their new content every three months because the Copyright Act says you’re eligible for statutory damages in a copyright infringement lawsuit if you register your work within three months of publication or one month of learning of the infringement – whichever is first. In a previous call to the Copyright Office, the representative said it was permissible to register all your content as one work and that subsequent registrations would be derivative works of the prior ones.

A few months ago I was informed that content that is only available online (including blog posts) doesn’t count as “publications,” so that rule about registering within three months of publication doesn’t apply. For unpublished content, you have to register you work prior to the infringement occurring to be eligible for statutory damages. If you wait until after your work has been stolen to register you work you can only collect actual damages, which will be low unless you or the person who stole your work has a financially successful site.

I called the Copyright Office yesterday and was told that you can’t register posts that are released on different days as one work (though my experience is proof that you can) and you can’t register the same post as an individual work and as part of a larger work, (though I think there’s some wiggle room here).

So here’s my new stance – registering your blog content is not worth it for most people. The exception to this rule is you might want to register your work if you think it will be stolen by someone who can afford to pay potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and attorneys’ fees. If you’re in this boat, or think you might be, you should submit your application to the Copyright Office before you release the post on your site to ensure that your application will be in before any infringement can occur.

This is more proof of how behind the times the law is and that you can’t apply logic to copyright on the internet. I think it’s moronic that online content isn’t “published” when it’s released on the internet. I think this definition will change in the near future with so many publications switching from paper to being online only. As the law is written and applied the law seems unfair because it makes it harder for online writers to protect themselves.

There is a special copyright registration for “serial works” but so far the Copyright Office says blogs, including those that are released on a strict schedule like other serial publications, do not qualify. I think this is wrong and needs to be challenged.

For now, I’ve added a disclaimer to my ebook on Amazon that states that the copyright registration chapter is inaccurate and will be updated this summer. I hope to add the revised chapter to the book in the next month once it gets through legal review and editing.

Maintaining Privacy with an Online Alter Ego

Paper Bag (#95734) by Mark Sebastian from Flickr

Paper Bag (#95734) by Mark Sebastian from Flickr

I just got back from the interactive track of South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin – the most amazing conference for all things related to social media. I attended as many sessions as I could but there were dozens of other talks I wish I could have attended. I came back to Phoenix buzzing with ideas.

I attended an interesting session by author/journalist Pernille Tranberg from Copenhagen. She co-authored the book Fake It! Your Guide to Digital Self-Defense.  She uses her real name on LinkedIn and Twitter, but she uses fake names on Facebook and for filling out forms online. She has two complete alter egos. Her friends know her fake name on Facebook but she generally doesn’t share that information with others.

In a world that pushes of online transparency, her ideas run in the opposite direction. This is a great tactic for people to use who don’t want everyone looking them up or if they want to have a private online life that is completely separate from their professional life. Having a fake persona makes it less likely that your boss or prospective boss will be able to find you on Facebook or anywhere else you use your fake name. Additionally, if your fake identity is ever stolen it won’t be devastating for you because there are no assets connected to your alter ego.

If you’re interested in creating an alter ego for yourself, check out Fake Name Generator. It will give you a name, address, email address, username, password, profession, and even information like height, weight, blood type, and mother’s maiden name.

Now, does using a fake name violate the terms of service of social media sites that require you to use your real name or have a policy against one person having multiple accounts? Yes. But if no one reports you, how will they ever know?

I also attended a session on Bullying: Social Media as Problem and Solution which featured Marta Gossage, community manager for Reddit. She spoke about how people are encouraged to use pseudonyms on Reddit and by doing so it allows people to share and connect with people in a way that they don’t feel comfortable doing in real life. She said it also reduces the amount of harassment because most people don’t know each other in real life and participants on the site are good at enforcing the ideal that they can attack an idea but not the person.

Marta encourages people to use fake names because it’s easier to share without fear of judgment when no one knows who you are and because it’s easier to delete a fake identity than a real one from the internet. This is particularly true for young people who don’t think before they post and may regret the things they post which might affect their ability to get jobs or accepted into college.

I have a friend who maintained two Facebook profiles during law school – one was under her real name that was mostly a placeholder in case a professional contact tried to look her up. The other was under her fake name where she was free to be herself. Knowing what I know about her career plans, it made sense for her to separate her social life from her professional one. (Don’t worry – she doesn’t do anything bad. She’s just a bit of a free spirit in a conservative industry where some might look down on her boisterousness.)

If you want to create a fake persona online, remember what Benjamin Franklin said: “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Be careful to only share your fake identity with people who will keep it private.

You can connect with me via TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Arizona Cyberharassment & Cyberstalking Laws

It's scary to join an open source project by opensourceway from Flickr

It’s scary to join an open source project by opensourceway from Flickr

When I was planning out my year, I learned that January is National Stalking Awareness month. This inspired me to look up the laws on cyberstalking and cyberharassment in Arizona.

When I think about stalking, I think about the guy who follows you from the shadows and hides in the bushes and watches you with binoculars. They always know where you are and show up wherever you go “by coincidence.” When we first started acknowledging stalking as a crime, the perpetrator had to be within physical proximity to you. In person stalking is still an issue and now we have to worry about cyberstalking too – people tracking you wherever you go via the internet and using your posts against you to know where you’re going and to harass you in person and online. Some of these perpetrators do things like attach a GPS to your car so they can track your movements. Creepy!

Stalking and harassment are different, but there’s often overlap between the two. I think when you’re being stalked, you’re also being harassed once you know you have a stalker but the reverse isn’t always true. You can be harassed without being stalked. These crimes are state law crimes, so the definitions may be different depending on where you live. I recommend you check your state’s laws to make sure that they’ve been updated to include cyberstalking and cyberharassment.

Here are the laws in Arizona:

  • Cyberstalking: Intentionally or knowingly engaging in conduct that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or their immediate family’s safety, including the fear of death. (Class 5 Felony); Penalty: 9 months in jail and up to a $150,000 fine
  • Cyberharassment: Communicating with a person with the intent to harass them or with the knowledge that the person was being harassed. (Class 1 Misdemeanor); Penalty: Up to 6 months in jail and up to a $2,500 fine

There’s also a separate law for harassing someone via electronic communications. The definition and penalty is the same as cyberharassment except that it specifies that it applies to harassing, intimidating, terrifying, and/or threatening someone. It seems redundant.

And that’s just the criminal law side. If you cyberstalk or cyberharass someone, you may also be sued for damages in civil court.

On top of that, you may get in trouble with the company who provided you the means to stalk or harass the person. If you do it from your work computer, you might be fired. If you do it via your school’s network, you could be suspended or expelled. If you do it from one of your social media accounts, you can be kicked off the site.

So what are the take-home lessons?

  • If you’re mad at someone or want to give them a hard time, think twice before you begin your course of action. It may not take much to cross the line into cyberharassment. The consequences might be way worse than you think.
  • If you’re being cyberharassed or cyberstalked, report it – to law enforcement, to the site or company that’s facilitating it, and possibly call a lawyer. Cyberharassment sucks and you don’t have to put up with it.

You can connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.