What Does This Mean?
Lately you can’t turn on the news without seeing someone being accused of stalking; and now, with all the digital hype, cyberstalking or impersonating another online.
These crimes have taken over the internet. According to The Guardian (UK) there are over 83 million fake Facebook profiles alone. So how are these online crimes different than the ones that occur IRL (in real life)?
To understand what “cyberstalking” is, you first have to understand what “stalking” is.
Stalking occurs when a person, on more than one occasion, specifically engages in conduct directed at another person that he/she knows or reasonably believes the other person will regard as threatening.
These threats may include bodily injury or death of the victim, the victim’s family, or someone that the victim is dating. The threat may also be directed at the victim’s family or person the victim is dating and still be considered along with other threats made.
Cyberstalking, in essence, is stalking but while using an electronic medium. Texas does not have specific laws set out to provide for cyberstalking, but it applies the longstanding stalking statute.
Stalking, and by extension cyberstalking, is punishable as 3rd Degree Felony, or a 2nd Degree Felony if the person has already been convicted once before. That means a minimum of 2 years in prison, and up to 10 years in prison (20 years if 2nd offense) and both carry a fine of up to $10,000.
Sometimes being yourself isn’t easy, and when you are hiding behind a computer screen, it may be tempting to take on someone else’s identify. Taking on an online persona though becomes illegal when it is done to defraud, threaten, or harm another person.
If someone creates a profile, or posts messages on social media, as another person without their consent, and does it with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten someone else, then that constitutes a 3rd Degree Felony.
This could be something as simple as logging into your friend’s Facebook account, or getting onto her computer she left unlocked, and posting something mean about a classmate/coworker.
If someone sends an email, IM, or text message (or similar communication) as another person, without their consent, with the intent that the recipient believe they were talking to the other person, with the intent to harm or defraud any person, then that constitutes a Class A Misdemeanor.
What Can You Do?
These days, it’s not just teenagers creating these pages or doing the bullying, its adults too, but what does it actually mean: are you a victim, or have you been an instigator. Even if you were not intending to do any harm, stop and think about what you’re about to do before you post or tweet.
There are both civil and criminal means to protect yourself if you are being stalked or impersonated. The Texas Attorney General recommends that you contact the police, keep a diary, and even seek a protective order if you are related to the stalker by blood or marriage.
–Authored by Emily D. Walterscheid
Matthew Harris Law, PLLC – Criminal Defense Division
1001 Main Street, Suite 200, Lubbock, Texas, 79401-3309
Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479