Social Media Harassment
It is just so easy to do; that’s the thing about it. It is probably too easy, even though that is why we do it. It does not matter what form it takes – Facebook posts, tweets, snapchats, etc. We love to do it.
It also makes us dangerous.
Free Speech vs. Harmful Speech:
Strong opinions are all over the Internet. If you have an opinion on anything, you can find a group of people who support you and a group of people with whom to fight. It can be an affirming and trolling environment.
It often gets people into trouble, too. How many times have public figures shared a personal, inappropriate opinion only to realize that they should not have done so? It is damaging to their credibility and their popularity.
Sometimes, it can also affect a person’s standing in society. This happened recently in the Lynchburg area. After the election victory of Donald Trump, a member of the Lynchburg City Schools board resigned after writing a scathing Facebook post. While she was free to share her opinions on what Donald Trump’s victory meant for the state of American society, she was not immune to the damage it did to her public persona.
When Free Speech Becomes Threatening:
Free speech, taken too far, stops being free. In fact, the worst case scenario is for it to become criminal.
Just ask Anthony Elonis. His case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, has started to define at the federal level what constitutes illegal, threatening speech on social media.
Elonis separated from his wife in 2010. According to his lawyer, he worked through that difficult time in his life by working on some rap lyrics, which was a creative outlet for him. Unfortunately, those lyrics included some depictions of violence against his spouse.
In the end, the Supreme Court sided with Elonis, which made it harder to prosecute people for online threats. Indeed, this is an area of the law that is still evolving.
Virginia’s Law for Harassment by Computer:
There is a law, however, in the Code of Virginia that defines harassment by computer. It is pretty straightforward; here it is in its entirety:
If any person, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass any person, shall use a computer or computer network to communicate obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language, or make any suggestion or proposal of an obscene nature, or threaten any illegal or immoral act, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Any law like this is going to be open to interpretation. What constitutes “obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language?”
A Class 1 misdemeanor in the Commonwealth of Virginia carries a maximum of 12 months in jail and/or a fine of no more than $2,500. The actual punishment for a guilty verdict of harassment by computer will vary based on the details of an individual case.
As always, this is where your attorney comes in. If you have been accused of harassing someone by computer, call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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