Harassment, which occurs when a person intentionally annoys, threatens or provokes another person – or causes them to feel emotional distress – can take many forms. Workplace sexual harassment, for example, may include everything from making inappropriate jokes of a sexual nature in the presence of a co-worker to outright sexual assault. Whether or not harassment is a crime, however, depends on multiple factors. More serious types of harassment, such as stalking and hate crimes, are generally considered to be criminal in nature. But what about social media harassment?
Harassment doesn’t always occur in the physical realm. In fact, more and more often, people are using the anonymity of the internet to wreak havoc on their victims. From making online threats to cyberbullying, online harassment via email and social media networks has become disturbingly common. As with all types of harassment, however, the punishment – or lack thereof – depends more on the type of harassment than where the harassment takes place. For example, a death threat is a criminal form of harassment whether it’s made in person or on social media, whereas calling someone fat in person or online is cruel, but probably not criminal.
Misdemeanor or Felony?
Criminal harassment can be a misdemeanor or a felony. The distinction between the two is often based on whether the harassment was a first or subsequent offense. But the type of harassment is also a factor; a threat that makes a person fear for her safety may be a misdemeanor, but threatening to kill someone is more likely to be considered a felony. A Boston personal injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of social media harassment.
In recent years, legislators have begun to respond to the impact that cyberbullying, including social media harassment, can have on children and young adults of all ages. Depression, suicide, and even school shootings have been some of the most tragic consequences. As such, there has been a nationwide trend toward increased accountability for all types of bullying, with a focus on “electronic harassment,” including social media bullying and threats.
Penalties for Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying constitutes harassment if it involves repeated conduct of an alarming nature that is directed at a specific victim. If the actions would cause a reasonable person to feel distressed, the harassment may lead to criminal penalties. In MA, harassment – online or otherwise – can carry a fine of up to $1,000 and up to two-and-a-half years in jail. Second and subsequent offenses can land the individual in prison for up to 10 years.
Cyberbullying is a serious issue. The lasting emotional pain and fear for one’s safety can be devastating. A MA injury lawyer can help you recover damages if your child has been the victim of social media harassment or any type of cyberbullying.
Beyond fines and jail time, a person convicted of online harassment may be required to undergo psychological counseling. Further, he or she will likely be forbidden from having any type of contact with the victim. Violating such an order will almost certainly lead to additional charges.
Most states, including MA, have implemented anti-bullying policies in their schools. Students who harass another student in school or online may be subject to non-criminal penalties, including school suspension or a ban on school sports. And victims of cyberbullying may be able to seek compensation in civil court. Continue reading