The Internet and social media have opened up many new options for getting in touch with people. Unfortunately, they’ve also made it easier for people to act — sometimes anonymously — without thinking things through.
You may have heard about school-age kids “cyber-bullying” others. It’s good for kids to be held accountable for behavior like this, right? After all, what would happen if they never learned how to deal with people they don’t like or are having problems with? Unfortunately, we know the answer all too well.
Many adults end up making poor decisions online, whether it’s posting on Facebook in the heat of the moment, or hitting “reply all” on the wrong email. Others may get caught up in ideas that seemed OK … at first.
Does Pennsylvania have laws against online bullying or stalking of adults?
Yes. Depending on the circumstances, an adult can be charged with online harassment or stalking. Harassment, the less serious of the two offenses, essentially means intentionally harassing, annoying or seeking to alarm another person.
Depending on the circumstances, a first offense of harassment could be charged as a summary offense, but that could still get you up to 90 days in jail and/or a $300 fine if convicted. Or, it could be charged as a third-degree misdemeanor, which could result in up to a year in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. The charges and potential consequences get harsher if you’ve violated a restraining order against the victim.
Pennsylvania’s stalking statute covers more serious behavior like repeated, unwanted communication or persistently following someone around, whether it occurs online or in person. Essentially, if the inappropriate behavior apparently demonstrates you had the intent to put the other person in reasonable fear of substantial emotional distress or physical harm, you could be charged with stalking.
A first offense of stalking is generally considered a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to 5 years behind bars and/or a $10,000 fine. A second offense involving the same person can be charged as a third-degree felony that can get you 7 years and/or a $15,000 fine.
Sometimes it can be hard to let go of emotional entanglements. Before you take action out of anger and frustration, take a deep breath and think about the consequences. If you do get charged with online stalking or harassment, you need to talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer.