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Cyberstalking is a type of crime that harnesses the power of the internet to harass and intimidate someone.

The law has generally been a few steps behind the internet age. For a long time, cyberstalking wasn’t treated like a crime because there were no laws against it. That’s changed — along with how aggressive the police are these days about putting cyberstalkers out of business.

Unfortunately, however, what constitutes cyberstalking can often be a matter of opinion. In addition, the penalties for using the internet to contact someone who already has a restraining order against you can also be fierce — you can spend up to four years in jail for that alone. That puts a lot of people at risk of prosecution for what they may see as a fairly harmless act.

For example, imagine that you and your girlfriend part on bad terms. She accuses you of domestic violence and you’re given a temporary restraining order that prohibits you from contacting her in any way. Less than a week later, you find out that she’s already changed her social media profile’s status back to “In A Relationship,” and is posting about her new boyfriend. Aggravated, you post a single emoticon — an angry face — to her announcement.

Not only are you guilty of violating the temporary protective order she has against you, you could be accused of cyberstalking her because you used the internet to contact her.

Cyberstalking charges can result from any of the following type of actions:

  • Repeatedly contacting someone online through email or social media through your own identity or a false identity
  • Threatening to expose someone’s past online to all of his or her friends and family
  • Physically threatening someone or his or her family members through an email or on social media
  • Constantly posting messages designed to draw the attention of a specific person through tags and other methods
  • “Liking,” and following someone’s social media after you’ve been told to leave him or her alone

If you’re going through a difficult time in your relationship with someone, don’t compound your problems. Step away from the keyboard and stay away from social media if you’re afraid you’ll slip. Internet crimes are taken very seriously these days and you don’t want to let a moment of anger turn into a jail sentence.

Source: euro.ecom.cmu.edu, “California Penal Code §646.9 Cyberstalking,” accessed April 26, 2018

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