Facebook Harassment Can Lead to Criminal Convictions

August 7, 2013

Please note – this post refers to criminal matters for which you should contact the police.

We cannot assist you with Facebook and criminal matters or defamatory posts.

Watch Your Online Behavior – Facebook Can Get Expensive

Frequently I see people wondering if Facebook will start charging its users. It won’t, because on Facebook, the users are the source of the content. Without the users, there is no Facebook. However, this does not mean that Facebook cannot get expensive. The potential costs of Facebook can be quite high in terms of the risks to your privacy or the impact on your life.

Facebook is NOT Private

People seem to forget that Facebook is a social medium. By that I mean, its very purpose is for people to share the information that they put up there. Sometimes people think what they post is private, but it isn’t.  First, the default settings on Facebook tend to be pretty open. Second, even if you only share a post with several people, it doesn’t mean one of those people won’t choose to share it with someone else. A quick screen capture is all that is needed to share an inappropriate post.

Deletion Won’t Always Protect You

Further, if you harass someone online, Facebook will cooperate with the police in turning over information. This includes information you have deleted  While Facebook states that once you have deleted something it is gone, and this is true, the reality is that some information, when deleted, can be restored. My understanding of how Facebook works is this:

  1. You delete something
  2. It goes into a recycle bin of sorts (like on your computer)
  3. Until something overwrites it, the item remains

Now, Facebook won’t cooperate in a civil case, but keep in mind, someone else could have preserved something you wrote. In addition, if data is made available in a criminal case, it can then be used in a civil case.

Online Harassment is Illegal

There are numerous cases in which people have been charged with a crime in relation to harassment online. Most recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld a teenager’s criminal conviction for stating that another teenager “has herpes. Ew.”  The post went on to insinuate that the other teenager is a slut. The poster was 18, the person she attacked was only 15 at the time.

What is Harassment?

In Pennsylvania, harassment is when someone has the intent to “harass, annoy or alarm” and in the efforts to do so, communicate either “to” or “about” the person “lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures.”  In this case, the 18 year old stated that the 15 year old had a venereal disease and engaged in frequent sexual activity, and she did so online, where other people could (and did) see it. The 18 year old was sentenced to probation for her behavior. If the harassment had risen to a higher level, she easily could have experienced a greater penalty. If you are a victim of harassment, you should call the police for assistance.




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