Between the wonders of the internet and the proliferation of social media, you can find everything you could possibly want to know about someone just by looking them up online. Photographs, marital status, friends, hobbies and interests, and sometimes even what they had for dinner last night, can all be obtained easily with just a few mouse clicks.
It is not uncommon to do a search or scan the Facebook page of someone we like or are interested in, or even someone we do not like, or have religious, political, or philosophical differences with. It is also not uncommon to voice our opinions about people, their views, and their actions, and social media allows us to communicate our thoughts easily with others, whether they are across town or in another country.
When does this freedom of information and the right to express ourselves cross the line?
Cyberstalking and online harassment have become hot topics. While hitting the ‘like’ button, commenting on a person’s status, or obtaining information on someone via a Google search may seem like innocent behaviors, it can result in criminal charges if your attentions are unwanted.
What Is Cyberstalking?
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According to the National Institute of Justice, stalking is a crime that involves nonconsensual communication with another, and involves verbal or written communications that may appear to be in some way threatening or bizarre to the person on the receiving end.
Under Section 16-3-1700 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, stalking is a criminal matter when it involves a pattern of conduct or communication that serves no legitimate purpose and causes the person who is targeted to fear any of the following to themselves or a member of their family:
- Damage to property
- Criminal sexual conduct and sexual assault
Stalking is a felony offense, and the penalties may include fines up to $5,000 and as much as five years in jail. These penalties increase with each offense committed, or if a restraining order has been issued by the court in the matter.
Cyberstalking involves using technology to communicate with another person in an unsolicited manner. This communication can occur via email, in chat rooms, or on social media, and can also take the form of assuming the other person’s identity or persona on web pages or within the cyber community.
Examples of Cyberstalking
Cyberstalking can come in many different forms as there are so many mediums of online communication, such as:
- Emails: Sending emails from various accounts that are manipulative, threatening, lewd, or harassing is considered cyberstalking.
- Hacking: Hacking into someone’s online accounts, whether their bank account, social media account, or anything in between is cyberstalking. Often hackers will change their victim’s settings and passwords.
- Impersonating: Sometimes cyberstalkers will impersonate their victim on social media or dating sites.
- Catfishing: Catfishing is a term used for when a person creates a fake persona on social media or dating sites to lure their victim into a seemingly trustworthy relationship.
- Exploiting: If cyberstalkers get ahold of personal information they will sometimes share it on online forums or discussion boards in an attempt to damage their reputation, be controversial, or put the victim in danger.
- Sign-ups: Cyberstalkers will get into their victim’s heads by signing them up for various online mailing lists and services that they did not sign up for themselves.
How to Prevent Cyberstalking
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take in your online habits to avoid being cyberstalked. You should work to keep a low profile on the internet, whether that means making your accounts private or simply limiting the type of content you post. Also, take care when posting about where you are or where you are going, as that could provide a stalker with your exact location.
Additionally, update your programs and software with security protections and hide your IP address with a virtual private network (VPN). Avoid putting any sort of sensitive information out on the internet — you may even want to create a separate email account that isn’t connected to your name for services that require it upon signup.
Listed under the same legal statutes as stalking, harassment is considered a pattern of intentional and unreasonable intrusion into the life of the targeted person. The contact serves no reasonable purpose, is unwanted, and causes the person who receives the communication some type of mental or emotional distress, such as anxiety, fear, or worry.
A person who initiates contact with another via email or social media, repeatedly contacting this person and causing mental or emotional distress, may be charged under Section 16-3-1710 of the SC Code of laws with harassment in the second degree. This charge is a misdemeanor, with penalties of up to several hundred dollars and 30 days of jail time. Penalties increase if the person has been previously convicted of harassment or stalking within the past 10 years.
If the alleged harassment moves beyond the internet to contact at a person’s home or place of business, you could be charged with harassment in the first degree, which carries a potential jail sentence of up to three years.
What Is Online Harassment?
Online harassment is a broad term that encompasses cyberstalking and any other form of disturbing behavior online, and it can have serious legal consequences under harassment laws in South Carolina. According to research by the Pew Research Center, 41% of Americans have experienced online harassment, from name-calling to stalking to purposeful embarrassment.
Online harassment may look different in each case, but generally, it involves threatening or harassing emails, messages, or posts. In some cases, harassers directly contact a specific person to harass them, or they might post personal information online, like videos and photos, without their consent.
Being harassed online often causes feelings of distress, fear, and anger. Due to the rise of social media use and new online platforms, online harassment has increased in severity in recent years, making action to curb this behavior essential.
Contact Our Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you are facing social media harassment, criminal harassment, or stalking charges, contact our experienced South Carolina criminal defense attorney today. Greenville attorney Lauren M. Taylor of Lauren Taylor Law offers aggressive legal defense in a variety of criminal matters, and can help to ensure your rights are protected.
We provide effective, efficient legal representation, and can strategize the best course of defense in your particular case. Serving Greenville and all of Upstate South Carolina, call or contact us online today for a free review of your case.
South Carolina divorce attorney Lauren Taylor practices family law in Charleston and Greenville. She graduated from the Charlotte School of Law, and has been practicing for more than ten years.
Since the firm’s inception in 2012, Mrs. Taylor has helped hundreds of people navigate the uncertainties surrounding the family and criminal court process.
She has cultivated a team that ensures each case has a strategy crafted specifically to the clients needs and desires.
Her commitment to top notch service has led her to open two additional offices in the low country where she now resides with her husband Michael and her golden retriever, Buster.