Are Online Threats Illegal?

Since the advent of social media, bullying and harassment are no longer limited to phone calls, emails, and face-to-face encounters. Now people can threaten and harass others from the comfort, and privacy, of their living room. We all know keyboard warriors who type cruel, vile things they would never say to someone’s face. But when do nasty remarks become illegal?

The Age of Cybercrime

Cybercrime, including cyberbullying and online threats, has taken center stage in recent years. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled to reverse the conviction of a man who posted lyrics about his fantasy to kill his wife on social media. Possibly in response to this decision, several states have adopted legislation to protect people from cybercrime. According to the Supreme Court, the intent is what matters. Therefore, threatening words may only be words if there is no actual intent to harm another person. Even cruel speech may be protected under the first amendment. Whether or not a threat was intentional, however, is often a matter of opinion. For this reason, it is important to obtain legal counsel if you have been charged with a cybercrime. Contact a Boston criminal defense lawyer today.

It’s All in the Context

Context is important when determining whether an online threat is illegal. If the threat appears to be sarcastic it won’t likely be considered a threat. For example, if I post, “Sara, I will literally kill you if you post that music video one more time,” I probably don’t actually intend to kill Sara, even though I wrote “literally.” If, however, the language appears to be serious in nature, other factors will need to be considered. And context can also change based on current circumstances. For example, joking about a school shooting online may be considered more than a joke when news of a recent school shooting is still fresh in people’s minds.

Determining if an Online Threat is Illegal

Criminal threats are illegal, whether they are made online, over the phone, in person, or through the mail. Therefore, the individual characteristics of the threat have to be analyzed to determine whether or not the threat was illegal. If the same threat made over the phone or in person would be considered a criminal threat, it’s likely to be considered a criminal threat online as well. The following factors will be considered when determining if a threat is criminal in nature:

  • Who is the victim of the threat?
  • What is the victim being threatened with?
  • Who is making the threat?
  • Is it a credible threat?
  • Did the speaker actually intend to make a threat?

If the answers to these questions point to a credible threat of harm to an easy-to-identify target, the threat will probably be considered criminal, and thus illegal. If you are facing cybercrime charges, contact a Boston defense attorney today.

Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Premier Criminal Defense Law Firm

If you have been charged with any type of criminal offense, the skilled legal team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We have been fighting for the rights of individuals charged with crimes for more than 50 years, and we have an impressive track record of getting clients’ charges reduced, or even dropped altogether. If you made an online threat and it’s coming back to bite you, it is imperative that you consult with a skilled criminal defense attorney immediately. There is significant grey area when it comes to online threats, and the right lawyer can be the difference between jail time and freedom. Don’t let a mistake ruin your life. If you are facing any type of criminal charge, we can help. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.

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