Criminal Tweeting: Texas Online Harassment Charged

Posted September 7, 2010 in Criminal Law by Arthur Buono

All you cyberstalkers out there, listen up. A San Antonio Spurs public address announcer has been charged under Texas’ new online harassment law. Police charged the man with posting harassing messages to a Twitter account about a local television reporter. It could be the first trial for the offense since lawmakers passed the law last year.

  • Posting anonymous, harassing messages on social media a crime
  • 47 states have anti-stalking laws specifically for Internet and e-communications abuse
  • Website privacy policies permit disclosure of your information to law enforcement

Abusive Tweets and Privacy Violations Criminalized

The law creates an offense called online harassment. Police say the announcer violated the law by creating a Twitter account under a fake ID and posting tweets about the reporter with the intent to harm or intimidate her. The tweets accused the reporter of adulterous affairs with married men.

The Texas law fits a trend towards specifically criminalizing stalking and harassment on the Internet or by other electronic communications. The law has two distinct crimes. One relates to social media harassment. The other relates to disclosure by electronic communication like email of certain personal information of another with intent to harm or defraud that person. This means mass texting your ex-girlfriend’s phone number as payback for a breakup is not just unmanly, but also a crime. The National Conference of State Legislatures has collected online harassment statutes here. If you feel someone’s stalking you, online or in person, you should contact the police ASAP.

The cops collared the perp by tracing the IP address of the Twitter account back to his home computer. Oh yeah, you need to read Twitter’s privacy policy before you decide to use your account to break the law. Twitter will give you up to law enforcement. Twitter itself doesn’t go in for harassing tweets. Of course even – no, especially – if you’re not a jerk you should read websites’ privacy policies. It’s one way to safeguard your personal information online.

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