What are Cyber Harassment Laws?

Renee Booker

Most jurisdictions have had laws defining and punishing stalking, harassment, and bullying for some time. With electronic communication becoming the primary form of communication, most jurisdictions have had to address the issue of cyberstalking, harassment, and bullying. As a result, cyber harassment laws, which are designed to prosecute these types of attacks, now exist in many jurisdictions.

Laws against cyber harassment and bullying prevent abuse through electronic means, such as e-mail and social media sites.
Laws against cyber harassment and bullying prevent abuse through electronic means, such as e-mail and social media sites.

Harassment, in legal terms, is usually defined as continued and/or systematic unwanted actions by a party toward a victim. This may include threats, demands, or coercion, and may be based on an individual dislike of the person or on the race, nationality, political or religious beliefs, or sex of the person being harassed. Stalking generally includes harassment with the addition of a credible threat to the victim. Bullying is a relatively new legal term which is frequently interchangeable with harassment with the addition of the requirement that the victim is a minor.

Young adolescents and teens are the common prey of cyber bullies.
Young adolescents and teens are the common prey of cyber bullies.

With the advent of the Internet came cyber crimes, including cyber harassment. Cyber harassment is simply harassment carried out through electronic means. Common examples of this type of harassment include repeated unwanted or threatening e-mails, instant messages, or social network contacts. Cyber harassment may also take the form of bogs or entire websites designed to upset, bother or verbally attack a victim.

Cyber harassment may include text messages.
Cyber harassment may include text messages.

Existing harassment laws can sometimes be used to prosecute cyber harassment, but many jurisdictions have enacted separate cyber harassment laws designed to specifically address the act of harassing someone online. Cyber harassment laws may also be used in conjunction with existing laws, such as laws that protect victims of a crime from contact by the offender. Violation of a no contact order, for example, may be charged as a violation alone or may be charged under existing laws.

Cyber harassment laws are often used in conjunction with laws to prevent domestic violence and stalking.
Cyber harassment laws are often used in conjunction with laws to prevent domestic violence and stalking.

In many cases, the victim of cyber harassment knows who the perpetrator of the crime is, but sometimes the perpetrator may be hiding behind the shield created by the Internet. Another advantage of these laws is that they often provide legal mechanisms for obtaining the identity of the perpetrator. Cyber harassment laws have put pressure on Internet providers, social network sites, and other websites to require identifying information when a user logs on or utilizes the site or service.

Penalties for violating cyber harassment laws vary widely by jurisdiction. In most cases, cyber harassment is charged as a misdemeanor. The more serious crime of cyberstalking, however, may be a felony in some jurisdictions and punishable by a lengthy prison sentence.

Many incidents of online bullying start out as incidents of real life bullying.
Many incidents of online bullying start out as incidents of real life bullying.

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Discussion Comments

trod7979

@kentuckycat: I am also a victim of harassment on Facebook. I have all locks on my account but this woman keeps finding ways to message me. She is causing big problems for me and my boyfriend! What can I do? I want to get a restraining order.

stl156

@JimmyT - I think that the courts understand that one bad law can change a lot for the worse and that is why they put it on the responsibility of the people creating the pages.

I think that people over worry with cyber stalking and that only really bad clear cut instances are taken seriously.

Cyber stalking laws usually deal with legitimate cases that do not make the police and courts run circles to try and dispel the crime as simply being another case of someone jumping to conclusions.

It is too easy to be very friendly on social media sites and some people are just a little awkward, but mean well, yet some people can take this the wrong way and end up crying wolf. That is why courts are careful in this area and make sure that they are sure the person is a threat before they proceed with hearing the case.

I imagine that most of these cases involve legitimate threats to harm the person, obscene threats, or bullying and as long as someone is smart enough not to do that then they should be fine and not have to worry.

JimmyT

@kentuckycat - I feel like laws put in place right now concern things like cyber bullying and place a high importance on proving the person is a threat.

Almost anyone can point fingers and make accusations, but it when you post something on a social media site it is up for grabs for people to view it. People need to understand this concept and know that they are the ones responsible for controlling what people see on their pages.

If there is someone that they do not want looking at their page they can simply block that person or report them to the website that they do not want them looking at their page.

Now in order for someone to be labeled a cyber stalker they have to issue threats or be a threat in some way to the person. This can be very hard to prove and can become a witch hunt in some cases, when people simply do not want the person looking at their things on their page.

Social media has become very complicated and has created a monster in regards to the law and stalking. It only takes one bad law passed now to put a lot of people in jail for stupid crimes.

kentuckycat

@Izzy78 - I think that some people are a bit paranoid of what can occur, but probably will not on the internet with these social media websites.

Take Facebook for example, if there is someone that is unwanted company or someone doe snot want them to see their page they can simply block the person or put restrictions on what they can see. This is similar to all other social media websites and is available by the websites simply to allow people the opportunity to prevent cyber stalking on their own without having to go through the process of the courts or just nipping the situation in the bud before it becomes worse.

I will have to say thought that laws concerning internet stalking are pretty vague and it is hard to determine someone that is a credible threat if they do not make threats to someone for others to see. I feel like the social media sites have some what created a monster as far as this area of the law is concerned and it has become a grey area in law that needs to be addressed, but is hard to do.

Izzy78

I feel like internet harassment and cyber stalking can occur much more often these days simply due to the availability of the internet to more people than ever before and the number of social media websites out there that are available to many people.

People seem to want to post their entire lives on their facebook or myspace pages and this is just asking for people to stalk them and try to find out as much as they possibly can.

Now I know you can control the privacy settings on these, but people that do not are susceptible to cyber stalking from people that they do not want to be around.

It is somewhat a scary thought and laws restrictions need to be put in to place to help protect people nowadays from a threat that is greater than ever before.

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