In this all-encompassing blog post, we’re going to take you through how to protect yourself against cyberstalkers and online harassment, what cyberstalking is and its definition, several state and federal cyberstalking laws you should be aware of, and several examples of what cyberstalking and internet stalking.
- Cyberstalking is defined as the stalking, harassment, or attack of a person by way of the Internet or other electronic communications. It’s considered a form of cyberbullying, however; cyberbullying is generally understood to apply to the harassment, stalking, and bullying of minors on the Internet, while cyberstalking and internet stalking applies to adults.
- In the United States, cyberstalking is a crime, however; legislation defining cyberstalking and cyberbullying is lacking at the federal level. As such, it’s generally criminalized under U.S. harassment, anti-stalking, and slander laws. At the state level, cyberstalkers can be charged with a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the severity of their actions. For example, under California cyberstalking laws, a typical misdemeanor cyberstalking sentence may include up to a USD $1,000 fine and one (1) year in jail, while a felony cyberstalking sentence may lead to up to five (5) years in prison, a fine up to $1,000, and potential registration as a sex offender.
- To protect yourself against cyberstalking and online harassment, we recommend the following:
- Make sure to preserve and document all evidence – this will ultimately help strengthen your claim,
- Install an email and content filtering system – as targeted phishing and malware schemes are common ways by which cyberstalkers and online harassers access personal information,
- Don’t respond or retaliate – doing so could actually do more harm than good, and lead to the further dissemination of personal information/photographs and increased harassment,
- Understand what actually constitutes cyberstalking and its various defenses – acquainting yourself with a perpetrator’s common defenses could lead to you realizing there is no actionable cyberstalking or online harassment claim, and
- Consider tightening up your digital footprint and public online profiles – the less personal information that’s out there, the lesser chance of having personal information and photographs used against you.
Cyberstalking Protection Tip: When identifying and detecting cyberstalking, there’s several key characteristics one should look out for, such as: whether the online individual has acted with malice and premeditation, repetitively, and obsession. If you’re unsure of what exactly constitutes online stalking and internet harassment, we recommend consulting an experienced Internet defamation attorney as soon as possible.
Have you been the victim of malicious cyberstalking and other forms of internet harassment? Contact the experienced Internet defamation attorneys of Minc Law as soon as possible. Internet stalking is no laughing matter, and could pose a serious threat to your safety and livelihood, so it’s extremely important to take action now!
At Minc Law, we know the ins and outs of cyberstalking laws in the United States, and have proven results not only stopping online harassment and cyberstalking in a timely manner, but also identifying anonymous offenders and obtaining compensation for cyberstalking victims.
For example, in a highly-publicized 2018 cyberstalking case, we successfully played a role in the civil litigation and criminal indictment by a federal grand jury (in Washington D.C.) of a Tennessee man who victimized, cyberstalked, defamed, harassed, and terrorized a young woman. While it was difficult to identify the individual responsible for these malicious attacks and online harassment, we were able to apply years of technical and investigative experience to ultimately identify and locate the perpetrator.
Our goal is to make online harassment and internet stalking cease as quickly as possible through the removal of defamatory and libelous content, and identification of anonymous defenders.
And, we have the results to prove it. In our tenure as nationally recognized Internet defamation attorneys, we’ve secured the effective and seamless removal of over 25,000 pieces of content/websites, litigated in over 22 states and 3 countries, and had extremely high success rates in winning motions, appeals, and preliminary and permanent restraining orders.
What are you waiting for? It’s time to take back your life and safety.
We’re here to fight for you!
- What is Cyberstalking? How Does it Differ From Cyberbullying?
- The Most Common Types of Cyberstalking
- 5 Steps to Protect Against Cyberstalking & Online Harassment
- State & Federal Cyberstalking & Internet Harassment Laws
- Three Internet Harassment & Cyberstalking Cases
- Work With the Experienced Online Defamation Lawyers of Minc Law Now!
What is Cyberstalking? How Does it Differ From Cyberbullying?
Simply put, cyberstalking can be dangerous and should be addressed with the a strategic and comprehensive gameplan. Thanks to the rise of the Internet and social media platforms, cyberstalking and online harassment have unfortunately become common occurrences. Stalking and cyberstalking have become an epidemic in today’s society, with one report by education resource website ‘ThoughtCo’ placing the number of women and men stalked per year at 1 million and 370,000.
Affirming cyberstalking’s rise over the years is a study conducted by researchers at Bedford University(England), which found cyberstalking to actually be more common than physical stalking and harassment as of 2018.
Now, instead of having to sift through a hefty phone book, malicious cyberstalkers and internet harassers are simply able to type a victim’s name into Google’s search bar – or nearly any social media platform’s search bar for that matter.
In this section, we’re going to walk you through the definition of cyberstalking, how it differs from cyberbullying, some other common names for it, what a cyberstalker is, and more.
First, let’s take a look at what exactly cyberstalking is and its definition.
Cyberstalking, also known as internet stalking, is generally understood to mean the use of the Internet or other electronic communications and mechanisms to stalk, harass, or attack a person, entity, or organization. It’s considered a form of cyberbullying – an electronic form of bullying and harassment – and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, do note that cyberbullying typically concerns itself with the bullying and harassment of minors.
When approaching the definition of cyberstalking, cyberstalkers generally boast the following four objectives:
- Identify and locate the victim,
- Watch and surveil them closely,
- Emotionally harass and abuse them, and
- Criminal manipulate them and instill fear.
Cyberstalking will also include one of the following elements:
Furthermore, cyberstalking may also include more sinister and unnerving actions, such as; identity monitoring, direct and indirect threats, identity theft, vandalism, solicitation for sexual acts, and the gathering of information with intent to later harass. And, internet stalking doesn’t just relegate itself to those seeking to harass and terrorize innocent victims online – it’s often accompanied by real-life stalking.
Both cyberstalking and real-life stalking are criminal offenses. We’ll address this below in Section 4: State and Federal Cyberstalking and Internet Harassment Laws.
Cyberstalking may also commonly be referred to as:
- Internet harassment,
- Internet stalking
- Online stalking,
- Online harassment,
- Online sexual harassment,
- Online bullying, and of course
One technology ethics professor even goes so far as to call cyberstalking a form of “mental assault,” whereby a cyberstalker repeatedly and unwantedly forces their way into the daily life of a victim. Some technologists and law enforcement officials have referred to cyberstalking and cyberstalkers as “cyber-trolling” and “cyber-trolls,” however; there’s a substantial difference in the two.
Cyber-trolling is considered harmless, and generally a single instance, while cyberstalking alludes to an extended campaign of harassment, threats, and bullying. Another fundamental element of cyberstalking is that there is usually a strategic element behind it.
Online Harassment Protection Tip: Documenting online harassment, defamation, and other malicious attacks is extremely useful in aiding your potential case and content removal. We generally recommend also having a trusted friend or family member assisting in the documentation process, as it can ultimately help refute claims from the opposing party that you’ve tampered with the evidence.
If you’ve been the victim of online stalking, cyberstalking, or online harassment and are curious about your legal options, we strongly recommend reaching out to an experienced Internet attorney.
The Most Common Types of Cyberstalking
National figures reveal that the most common victims of cyberstalking and cyberstalkers are females. They generally fall within the 18-30 range, and are classified as being within the “college age.” That’s not to say that men aren’t popular targets for cyberstalking and internet harassment as well – a survey of nearly 800 students at Rutgers University and UPENN found a reported 45% of stalkers to be female.
ThoughtCo further notes that domestic violence victims are some of the most vulnerable groups to cyberstalking, due to the attempt at complete control by the perpetrator over one’s life, even after they’ve left. Leroy McFarlane and Paul Bocij, two cyberstalking researchers and lecturers, noted four distinct types of cyberstalkers that are commonly found in online stalking cases:
- The intimate cyberstalker and online harasser who attempts to form some sort of a relationship with the victim (and later turns on them),
- The calm and collected cyberstalker who merely does it to annoy a victim,
- The vindictive cyberstalker who is seeking to destroy the victim’s life, and
- A group of cyberstalkers who ultimately act out of furtherance of a collective motive.
Below are just some of the most common types of cyberstalking and cyberharassment that exist.
Online Sexual Harassment
Online sexual harassment is defined as one of many types of behavior, whereby a perpetrator uses a digital platform or content (images, posts, videos, webpages, or messages), to threaten, coerce, exploit, humiliate, or sexualize another party. Online sexual harassment is most commonly seen in instances where one party bullies or coerces another in a sexual and unwelcome manner into performing sexual favors.
Specifically, online sexual harassment and online harassment can generally be divided into two primary categories:
- Content, materials, and other media posted about a victim, and
- Content, materials, and other media received by a victim.
Of those two categories, online sexual harassment can be broken down even further – all of which can be experienced simultaneously and in conjunction with real life sexual harassment.
- Non consensual distribution and sharing of personal and intimate media (images, videos,
- Sexual exploitation and solicitation, threats, and other coercive acts,
- Online sexual bullying and humiliation,
- Unwanted sexualized messages and contact.
According to today’s present legal contexts of online sexual harassment, offhand comments, isolated instances, simple teasing, and online trolling are not generally considered actionable or online harassment.
A good question to ask yourself if you’ve been inappropriately messaged or posed about online is whether the conduct gives rise to a “general civility code.”
One of the most common forms online sexual harassment and stalking manifests itself in is in the workplace.
Online Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
With the rise of online communications and online messaging channels in the workplace, online sexual harassment at work has become a prevalent, unfortunate reality. Coworkers who send offensive and harassing emails to one another can give rise to actionable online sexual harassment claims. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has in the past brought suit against employers for failing to take immediate and remedial action after a company-wide email containing highly offensive jokes was distributed.
And, while online sexual harassment at work is one of the most prevalent, there have also been increases in racially harassing content and materials, religious harassment content and materials, and other content and materials intended to harass coworkers and employees on the basis of a specific characteristic or class.
It’s worth noting that if your company or business employs more than fifteen persons, then it is a requisite (by law) that there be sexual harassment policy (which includes online sexual harassment) in place.
Keep in mind that even viewing or downloading pornographic or sexually explicit media at work could result in disciplinary action, including a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Cyberstalking by Complete Strangers
Cyberstalkers come from all walks of life, and sometimes they may have absolutely zero connection to a victim. Some cyberstalkers do it because they can, and that’s reason enough for them.
According to a Harvard University study on the growing problem of cyberstalking and Internet harassment, women are “twice as likely as men to be victims by strangers.” Additionally a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice report titled ‘Stalking Victimization in the United States’ found that “about a tenth of all victims were stalked by a stranger.”
Cyberstalking by Ex-Spouses
As we noted above, domestic violence victims are also popular victims of cyberstalking and online harassment due to the controlling nature of the abuser. Cyberstalking may actually be considered a form of domestic violence due to the intended purpose of controlling a victim and isolating them from friends and family members.
Think about it, controlling a person’s entire life and isolating them from loved ones and friends often results in an increased dependency on one’s spouse. The above referenced Harvard study found that women are at the highest risk of being stalked by intimate partners, and roughly eight times more likely than men. Affirming such narrative, the above DOJ report referenced also noted that 21% of the polled stalking victims most often identified the perpetrator and cyberstalker as a “former intimate.
Additionally, ex-spouses and romantic partners may have likely had access to a victim’s social media accounts, emails, or other profiles at one point, making the barrier to stalking relatively easy.
Ex-spouses and cyberstalkers also may aim to prevent the victim from engaging with potential romantic partners.
Cyberstalking of Public Figures & Celebrities
Cyberstalking sometimes is accompanied by an element of delusion, something commonly found in most celebrity and public figure cyberstalkers. Cyberstalkers and cyberharassers often reveal that they viewed themselves as having a close connection with the celebrity or public victim, due to constantly reading about them online, watching their television shows or movies, or viewing them via popular media channels.
In one of the most famous cases of cyberstalking, actress Patricia Arquette decided to delete her Facebook completely after severe internet stalking. She warned Facebook friends and users to refrain from accepting friend requests from persons they didn’t actually know.
Online Harassment Tip: Remember, online harassment is a broad category, and can include everything from attacks and derogatory comments about one’s race, gender, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or religion, all the way to email obscenities and threats. Doctoring photos in an explicit and offensive way may also be considered online harassment.
Have you been stalked online by one of the above types of cyberstalkers and online harassers? Reach out to the experienced Internet attorneys of Minc Law now to explore your legal options!
We’re here to help take back your life!
5 Steps to Protect Against Cyberstalking & Online Harassment
Are you wondering what you can do if you are being cyberstalked or harassed online? Look no further. In this section, we’re going to take you through five actionable steps you can take to protect yourself against cyberstalking and online harassment.
When combatting cyberstalking, online harassment, and other Internet harassment, it’s important to stay vigilant and proactive. Oftentimes, there are tell-tale signs which can shed light on a perpetrator’s future intentions and actions. Additionally, it’s extremely important to understand what doesn’t constitute cyberstalking, online stalking, and online harassment, as this could help prevent bringing a frivolous claim and provide you with some peace of mind.
So, what are five actionable steps you can take if you are being harassed online?
1. Preserve & Document All Evidence
Cyberstalkers and online harassers are oftentimes highly tech savvy, and know how to hide their tracks. This can entail having past threatening messages/content removed or changed, which could ultimately make for a tough case when bringing a cyberstalking action.
We always recommend preserving all communications, content, and evidence of threats, comments, and attacks by cyberstalkers and online harassers. Doing so can ultimately help strengthen your case and refute any claims by the perpetrator that you fabricated evidence. We also recommend having a trusted family member or friend assist in the process to further legitimize its authenticity.
Due to the poor construction (and lack thereof) of adequate internet stalking and cyberbullying legislation in the United States, it’s important to paint a clear picture of what exactly happened.
2. Install an Email & Content Filtering System
The installation of an email and content filtering system could help assist in the prevention of malicious cyberstalkers and online harassers gaining access to your personal details (and your child’s). Phishing scams and malware are popular methods by which online perpetrators gain access to one’s computer, pictures, and personal information.
A comprehensive email and content filtering system can help weed out all the junk, while protecting you and your online persona.
Installing an email and content filtering system is an essential for parents looking to protect their children from online harassment and cyberstalking, as minors are more likely to fall victim to online phishing and malware scams.
Furthermore, make sure to switch out old passwords every month or two, and refrain from entering personal information into unsecured websites online. This is an extremely important thing to remember if you are leaving a relationship, as intimate cyberstalkers are some of the most common types on the Internet. Always look for the green “SSL” certificate at the beginning of the URL address search bar.
Do note that just because there is an SSL certificate installed, does not mean it is always safe to enter your information. However; it generally is an indication that the website went through property security hoops and processes.
For an all-encompassing article on monitoring your email privacy and what to look out for when shopping online, check out this FindLaw article here.
3. Don’t Respond or Retaliate!
Internet harassment and cyberbullying can be extremely overwhelming and invasive, leaving you in a state of disbelief and highly stressed. This can lead to heightened emotions, and a desire to respond to the perpetrator. Don’t!
We strongly recommend refraining from responding or retaliating against the online harasser or cyberstalker, as it could result in the further spread of personal information or physical violence. Engaging with irrational and malicious online stalkers is often futile, as they are often unpredictable and seeking out an emotional response.
The reality of the situation is most cyberstalkers don’t care whether your response to their threats and attacks is positive or negative – they are simply looking for a reaction.
Even if an online stalker threatens to release intimate photographs, personal information, contact your friends and family (or employer), or disseminate unsavory material, don’t respond. All of your energy should be focused into compiling and documenting the evidence.
4. Understand the Most Common Defenses to Cyberstalking & Internet Harassment
While we’ve touched on the various definitions of cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and online harassment, it’s important to understand the flipside of the coin when protecting yourself against cyberstalking and Internet harassment.
When bringing a cyberstalking, Internet harassment, or online stalking claim, perpetrators (and defendants) may likely rely on one of the following defenses, which will enable them to skirt liability for their actions.
- No Imminent Threat of Danger: A good portion of cyberstalking and online harassment legislation in the United States requires there be an imminent and credible threat towards a victim. Ultimately, if a perpetrator has no actionable way to carry out their threat, then a cyberstalking charge may not likely stick. Furthermore, a defendant might argue that they are dealing with a “hypersensitive” plaintiff, where a reasonable person would not perceive such words and comments to mean cyberstalking/threats.
- No Actual Intent: One of the fundamental elements of stalking and cyberstalking is the element of intent. If a defendant never intended to place the victim in fear, then there may possibly not be an actionable cyberstalking claim in. For example, this could occur in instances where a party makes a one off joke or statement.
- Not Made Repeatedly: One of threats or instances are not typically considered cyberstalking, as the consistent and repeated “stalking” is required. Sporadic conduct may act as a legitimate defense to internet stalking charges unless it can be proven that there was a “continuous purpose” behind it.
- False Accusations: We’ve addressed the notion of false accusations in a previous, comprehensive blog post, which we recommend checking out in further depth. Simply put, false accusations are claims and allegations that are unsubstantiated and not verifiable as fact. False accusations might be made by a former spouse in order to further a specific goal, however; it may not always mean cyberstalking or stalking is at issue.
5. Consider the Photographs & Information You Make Public
While there’s no guarantee of complete protection from online harassment and cyberstalking, it’s worth noting that the less you put out there (online), the less malicious cyberstalkers and online harassers have to draw from and use against you.
Simply put, the smaller the target, the better your chances of not falling prey to malicious online harassers.
Before putting content, photographs and media, and other personal information online, remember to ask yourself if you are comfortable with it possibly being seen and used by millions of visitors. It’s also not unheard of for internet harassers to use photographs from social media profiles to post to “rating” websites or doctor them completely – making it appear as though the victim is engaging in an unsavory or illicit act.
For example, if you run your own parenting website, consider refraining from placing photographs of your own children and family on the website, as this could draw unwanted attention to your personal life.
Or, if you run a personal blog solely meant for keeping friends and family members in the loop, consider setting up a verified login and registration system, so unauthorized parties are unable to gain access.
Finally, consider re-evaluating your current social media privacy settings, to prevent unauthorized third-parties from gaining access to your photographs and personal life.
Online Defamation Removal Tip: If you’re looking to bring an online defamation claim, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your state’s respective defamation statute of limitations, as it could mean the difference between bringing a successful claim and being barred from bringing one altogether. Generally, libel statutes of limitations range anywhere from one to three years, while some state slander statutes of limitations are shorter (six months to one year).
Additional Tips For Avoiding Online Harassment & Online Stalking
Several additional tips and steps you can take to avoid cyberstalking and online harassment include:
- Use a throwaway email account for registering on popular social networking websites,
- Avoid filling out all fields when registering for products, giveaways, and more online,
- Consider using a different name than your given name, or changing your last name on social media,
- Use Google Alerts and other Internet monitoring tools to keep an eye out for your name online.
If you’ve been the victim of cyberstalking, online harassment, online extortion, or sextortion, contact the experienced Internet attorneys of Minc Law today! Working with an experienced Internet attorney can help you better understand online sexual harassment, online harassment, and cyberstalking, and formulate your claim in the most effective and succinct way.
At Minc Law, we’ve built up an arsenal of legal tactics over the years to identify malicious, anonymous individuals and hold them accountable for damaging acts.
What are you waiting for?
The online abuse stops now!
State & Federal Cyberstalking & Internet Harassment Laws
There’s a good chance you’re wondering if cyberstalking is actually a crime… In the United States, cyberstalking is a crime, however; there’s very little legislative difference between the notions of cyberstalking and cyberbullying – with the core distinction centering on the victim’s age. For example, should a perpetrator engage in the online harassment of an adult, then it is more aptly referred to as cyberstalking or internet stalking, while should it involve a child, it is commonly labelled as cyberbullying.
Modern day cyberstalking is criminalized under United States anti-stalking, harassment, and surprisingly, slander laws.
While online harassment and cyberstalking has been addressed more recently by U.S. courts and federal law – most notably, the Violence Against Women Act (2000) – there still remains a lack of comprehensive legislation at the federal level which specifically addresses cyberstalking. The majority of of cyberstalking and online harassment is dealt with at the state level, with several addressing both harassment and stalking perpetrated by way of electronic communications.
However, the Federal Anti-cyberstalking law which is most often cited and applied is 47 U.S. Code § 223 – which specifically prohibits:
“(1) Whoever, in interstate or foreign communications, by means of a telecommunications device knowingly, makes, creates, or solicits, and initiates the transmission of, any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication which is obscene or child pornography, with intent to abuse, threaten, or harass another person…”
Cyberstalking & Online Harassment at the State Level
Now, let’s take a look at several states and their respective cyberstalking and online harassment laws, followed by a comprehensive table.
California Cyberstalking Laws
California began the push for criminalizing cyberstalking at the state level, and was the first state to do so, back in 1999. Under Section 646.9 of the California Penal Code, “Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family is guilty of stalking…”
As noted above, most states require the intent to place a reasonable person in fear for his or her safety – a highly contested issue surrounding modern day cyberstalking laws and legislation.
Cyberstalking (and stalking) is referred to as a “wobbler” offense, meaning prosecutors ultimately are vested with sole discretion whether to charge a perpetrator with either a misdemeanor or felony.
Additionally, Section 1708.7 of the California Civil Code provides the legal framework for individuals suing cyberstalkers and the damages available (general, special, and punitive).
Illinois Online Harassment Laws
Under Illinois online harassment and cyberstalking laws, “A person commits cyberstalking when he or she engages in a course of conduct using electronic communication directed at a specific person, and he or she knows or should know that would cause a reasonable person to:
- Fear for his or her safety or the safety of a third party; or
- Suffer other emotional distress.”
720 ILCS 5/12-7.5 further expands that cyberstalking must happen on at least two separate occasions and include a threat of immediate or future bodily harm, sexual assault, confinement, or restraint.
Finally, Illinois cyberstalking laws go into a detailed explanation of what entails an electronic communication, defining it as any sign, writing, signal, image, sound, data, or intelligence that is transmitted by radio, wire, electromagnetic, photoelectric, or photo-optical system.
Washington State Cyberstalking Laws
Washington State has also been quite progressive with their passage of cyberstalking legislation, having passed one of the very first cyberstalking laws back in 2004. Specifically, Washington State’s cyberstalking law defines electronic communications which are made with the intent to harass, torment, intimidate, or embarrass as a person as cyberstalking if the language is overtly obscene or lewd. It must also be an action that is done repeatedly and give rise to the fear of physical violence.
Such law has created considerable controversy in the state of Washington, and had its constitutionality challenged on several occasions, ultimately culminating in a block on the law placed in February 2019 by Judge Ronald B. Leigh. He noted that the law was constructed and written to include a wide range of non-obscene and non-threatening speech.
And, while Washington does seek to proactively combat cyberbullying directly in schools through comprehensive bullying policies, the moratorium placed on the above law leaves adults somewhat in limbo when it comes to cyberstalking clarity in Washington.
Now, let’s turn to a table of the states which have criminalized cyberstalking and drafted governing legislation.
|U.S. States with Cyberstalking Laws||Scope of Cyberstalking Laws|
|Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York.||All seven states have drafted legislation prohibiting harassing computer, e-mail, and electronic communications.|
|Alaska, Florida, Oklahoma, Wyoming, California.||All five states have provided for electronically communicated statements as a means of stalking in their anti-stalking legislation and laws.|
|Florida||Signed into effect HB479 (2003) to ban cyberstalking.|
|Texas||Implemented the Stalking by Electronic Communications Act of 2001, which criminalizes the electronic communication of harassment, annoyances, alarms, abuse, tormenting, and embarrassment of others if it is obscene, threatening, conveys imminent harm, and consistent.|
|Missouri||After a horrific suicide in 2006, Missouri revised its harassment laws to include cyberstalking and harassment by electronic communications.|
Internet Harassment Tip: In most cases of adult cyberharassment, the first steps victims generally take are filing a report with their local police. However, we strongly recommend reaching out to an experienced Internet attorney to assist with the process, as Internet and cyberbullying laws in the United States can be extremely complex, vague, and nuanced.
Let’s turn to several fundamental issues in need of reform in today’s cyberstalking legal landscape.
Fundamental Issues With Today’s Cyberstalking & Cyberbullying Laws
One of the most glaring issues with today’s established cyberstalking and online harassment laws is the accounting of both children and adults as cyberstalking victims. Several states fail to codify both classes. Furthermore, there’s a general consensus that most online stalking laws fail to take into account the seriousness of behaviors which are a precursor to stalking, such as annoyances and menacing behavior. Connecticut has revised its cyberbullying laws to impose a stricter onus on schools and educational institutions to intervene at the very first sign of bullying and online bullying.
Due to the lack of comprehensive framework governing internet stalking, it’s not unheard of to see cyberstalkers and perpetrators prosecuted under alternative legal avenues, such as via invasion of privacy laws and computer crime legislation.
Additionally, both state and federal cyberstalking laws have been notoriously reactive, rather than proactive – an approach which has ultimately cost countless persons their lives.
Most present day laws require an imminent threat to one’s self or family.
It has also yet to be fully ironed out how identifying anonymous online perpetrators and cyberstalkers/online harassers can be properly balanced with basic civil liberties and Constitutional rights – such as freedom of speech. Do understand that true and actual threats are not protected speech in the United States.
Just as libel and slander laws are balanced in respect to protections bestowed under free speech laws, it’s important to understand that while an act might, at first glance, seem to be cyberstalking or cyberbullying, it might actually be more similar to “parody” or “opinion.”
Several organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have taken an overly broad approach to the term “cyberbullying,” emphasizing that the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment actually protects all forms of speech, even if deemed reprehensible.
Online Reputation Protection Tip: Setting up a Google Alerts account is an effective way to identify malicious online posters and trolls, as it enables users to receive alerts anytime Google’s search algorithm crawls a website with one’s name (or targeted keywords). It’s important to stay proactive about your online reputation and presence, as the Internet has sanctioned information to now spread to all corners of the world in a matter of seconds.
Have you been the victim of Internet stalking and online harassment, and are unsure of your state’s specific anti-cyberstalking laws and protections? Reach out to an experienced Internet attorney to discuss your legal options and learn about your rights.
Three Internet Harassment & Cyberstalking Cases
The United States has had its fair share of high-profile Internet harassment and cyberstalking cases, most of which have dealt with celebrities and teenagers (many of which resulted in the suicide of young children and students).
An unfortunate reality of the cyberstalking and online harassment landscape in the U.S. is that charges aren’t often brought or are ultimately dismissed (with no successfully obtained convictions) due to the complex nature they pose. Furthermore, as noted above, cyberstalking legislation is still somewhat ill-defined and new, due to the Internet’s historically recent rise (in the mid to late 1990s).
In this section, we’re going to walk you through three Internet harassment and cyberstalking cases which not only highlight the dangers of online harassment and cyberbullying, but show the present day inequities in our legal system when it comes to dealing with such cases.
United States v. Alkhabaz (Baker)
Online bullying and cyberstalking cases have been addressed in U.S. courts as far back as the early 1990s. Take for example the infamous case of United States v. Alkhabaz, in which a lawsuit was brought against University of Michigan undergraduate student Abraham Jacob Alkhabaz (also known as Jake Baker) after he published several snuff stories online.
While studying at the University of Michigan, Jake Baker began submitting highly graphic pornographic stories (involving rape, murder, and torture) to an online sex story group/forum. In 1995, Baker published one of his graphic stories to the forum, which depicted a classmate, ‘Jane Doe’, being raped, tortured, and murdered. After being brought to the attention of University authorities, Baker was arrested and deemed to be a credible threat to the rest of the student body.
Upon searching Baker’s computer, authorities found numerous stories depicting rape, murder, and torture, along with several emails to a Canadian man, detailing a game-plan to carry out these atrocious acts in real life.
Baker was indicted for six counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 875(c), a federal statute prohibiting interstate communications containing threats to injure or kidnap someone.
Ultimately, the charge associated with his story about ‘Jane Doe’ was dropped, due to overall lack of evidence that Baker would carry out these horrific fantasies. The case was appealed, however, the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision.
As we’ve touched on in Section 4, online harassment and cyberstalking legislation leaves much to be desired, and at the time there was no comprehensive piece of legislation in place governing such conduct. It also generated considerable controversy, with free speech advocates claiming Baker’s First Amendment right to free speech was violated.
Due to the controversy generated and addressing of First Amendment issues in the context of online harassment, cyberstalking, and Internet speech, United States v. Baker is considered a landmark legal case when discussing First Amendment issues in the context of the Internet.
United States v. Lori Drew
United States v. Lori Drew is an important case bringing to light the inadequacies and barebones nature of modern day cyberstalking laws, and the harsh realities associated with them. United States v. Drew was a criminal case that charged defendant Lori Drew of several violations under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), after her cyberbullying of Megan Meier, a 13 year old, lead to her suicide.
In 2006, Lori Drew, a grown adult living in Missouri with her husband and teenage daughter, became concerned that Megan Meier was spreading rumors about her daughter. In retaliation, Drew, her daughter, and an employee of Drew’s, created a fake Myspace account for a non-existent teenage boy. Their goals was to expose whether Meier was actually spreading false rumors about Drew’s daughter.
After countless communications between Meier and this falsified male Myspace account, the fake account sent Meier a private message letting her know that the world would be a “better place without her.” A barrage of messages from profiles associated with this fake Myspace account then flooded Meier’s inbox. Not long after, Meier committed suicide, and her mother found her hanging in her bedroom closet.
The fake Myspace account was subsequently deleted, and Drew directed another teenager (and minor) who was aware of such activities to keep quiet.
Initially, Missouri prosecutors announced they wouldn’t charge Drew for Meier’s death, citing a lack of evidence. However, in 2008, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, Thomas O’Brien, commenced with federal charges against Drew. Drew was indicted on four counts, most notably, several breaches under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Ultimately, the jury found Drew not guilty on all but one count – a misdemeanor violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Missouri legislators were quick to respond, amending their state’s harassment laws to include punishment for cyberbullying via electronic devices and text messages, and the criminalization of bullying a person under the age of 18 by a person over the age of 21.
The Cyberbullying of Tyler Clementi
In 2010, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi was filmed by his roommate Dharun Ravi, and hallmate Molly Wei, while kissing another man in his dorm-room. Ravi cited the fact that he left his dorm-room webcam on to make sure Clementi’s male guest did not steal anything, however, other witnesses testified that Ravi was seeking to confirm whether or not Clementi was gay.
After viewing Clementi and his guest kissing, Ravi posted a message on Twitter acknowledging his viewing of Clementi’s kiss with another man. Clementi soon found out and initiated an online request for a single room. That first viewing wasn’t the only time Ravi and Wei spied on Clementi, posting about their hosting of a “watch party” to spy on Clementi and his guest a second time. Ravi had set-up a webcam and this time, pointed it towards Clementi’s bed, encouraging people to iChat him between the hours of 9:30 and 12.
Clementi found the camera this time, unplugging it and disabling it completely. Clementi lodged a complaint with his resident assistant and two other school officials. Less than a day later, Clementi posted a message on Facebook stating, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry,” and subsequently jumped.
Several days later, Ravi and Wei were both charged with two counts of invasion of privacy for the first webcam viewing and transmission, along with two additional counts for Ravi for the second viewing. Roughly 6 months later, a Middlesex County grand jury indicted Dharun Ravi on 15 counts of tampering with evidence, witness tampering, invasion of privacy, and several other minor counts.
Wei entered a plea agreement, serving 300 hours of community service as punishment, while Ravi (who was convicted on all counts) was sentenced to a meager 30 days in jail, a $10,000 fine, 3 years probation, and 300 hours of community service. He was released from jail after just 20 days.
Clementi’s death served as an unfortunate catalyst for New Jersey legislators to pass a cyberbullying specific law, as it highlighted the lack of avenues and laws to adequately prosecute cyberbullies and cyberstalkers.
Cyberstalking Harassment Fact: Corporate cyberstalking a type of cyberstalking where a company harasses an individual on the Internet, or vice versa. Most of the time, the motives for corporate cyberstalking are with the overall of intent of secure a financial gain, increased market share, or revenge.
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Are you the victim of malicious cyberstalking and online harassment? Reach out to the experienced Internet defamation lawyers of Minc Law as soon as possible! At Minc Law, we have proven success preventing and stopping online harassment and cyberstalking. Furthermore, we’ve secured the effective removal of over 25,000 pieces of libelous and false content/websites, litigated in over 22 states and 3 countries, and boast a nearly 100% online defamation takedown and removal rate.
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Our highly experienced Internet defamation attorneys know who to work with and how to work with them to identify malicious online individuals and remove malicious online content. Here’s what you can expect when working with the Ohio-based Internet attorneys of Minc Law:
- Respect & Courtesy: At Minc Law, we understand how invasive, stressful, and overwhelming cyberstalking and online harassment can be, so know that we’re here to make the identification and removal process as smooth as possible. After all, your goals are our goals. We’re here to further your best interests.
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