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What Is Cyberstalking?

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on December 26, 2020

The fact of the matter is, the life of the average American is now predominantly online. We check in with family and friends via video calls. We update the world about our life through social media. Many of us are even working remotely these days.

However, this rise of online living has also impacted the way we interact with each other, and it has made way for a new kind of crime: cyberstalking.

Defining Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking may sound like something from a science-fiction movie, but it is a very real problem, and a very real crime. Essentially, cyberstalking refers to the act of stalking someone through online means. Cyberstalking often starts fairly small, and even harmless. For example, someone may receive a few negative or aggressive comments on her public social media accounts. This is fairly easy to brush off and move on from.

However, those few comments can turn into something far more sinister. A cyberstalker may start to send private messages, or emails, or even texts if they manage to find their victim’s phone number. These messages often become overwhelming and are sent constantly. They can be a mix of threatening and more positive. For example, the first message may express romantic desire. But when the cyberstalker doesn’t get the response they want, they can become aggressive and angry, threating violence and assault.

Cyberstalking and the Law

Under California Penal Code 646.9, cyberstalking was made illegal all the way back in 1998, after an amendment was added to the stalking laws of the time. Cyberstalking can be both a misdemeanor and a felony. A felony charge of cyberstalking could result in the perpetrator being placed behind bars for five years, and even having to register as a sex offender. However, to be charged with cyberstalking, the accused must have:

  • Willfully/maliciously harassed another person
  • Made a credible threat against that person
  • Made the person reasonably afraid for their safety or the safety of their family
  • All of this must have been done through the Internet or a “electronic communication device”

This means that leaving a mean comment or critique on someone’s Facebook or Instagram post could not be considered cyberstalking. The communication must get to the point of clear harassment, with direct threats being made.

While it may be tempting to claim that someone is cyberstalking you because their comments have been particularly mean-spirited, until you are afraid for your life or the lives of your family members, it is not considered cyberstalking, and so not considered illegal.

When You Have Been Accused

With how much of our lives are online these days, you may find yourself often commenting or reaching out to the same people. While this makes sense, it can lead to misunderstandings. If you have been accused of cyberstalking, you may be feeling panicked at this moment, realizing that you could be facing felony charges. You should stay calm, however. Keep in mind that your accuser must be able to show all of the factors we listed above. The prosecutor must also be able to prove that you are a cyberstalker beyond reasonable doubt. In both cases, a skilled criminal defense lawyer could easily provide you with the defense strategy that you need. To speak with a top attorney from Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP, call (213) 688-0460. We have years of experience fighting for our clients in the courtroom. We are more than capable of providing you with the defense that you need.

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Posted in: Dictionary