Online Harassment: Crossing the Line to Criminal

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Sep 23, 2023 | 0 Comments

For many of us, a significant amount of our communications and interactions with others occur online. Sometimes, on social media and other online platforms, we feel like we can say anything, even things we wouldn't have the nerve to say in person, so someone's face. When a person isn't in front of us, it may seem like there are no consequences to saying or doing anything we want online, but that is not the case. Actions online, anything you say, do, or send, can have serious real-world consequences.

Can You Really Get in Trouble for What You Say Online?

Yes, certain online communications are actually against the law. Pennsylvania's general harassment statute extends to online harassment, making online harassment a criminal offense. The statute defines harassment to include the following actions:

  • Communicating to or about such other person any lewd, lascivious, threatening, or obscene words, language, drawings, or caricatures
  • Communicating repeatedly in an anonymous manner
  • Communicates repeatedly at extremely inconvenient hours
  • Communicates repeatedly in any manner other than those stated above with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another

Platforms Where Online Harassment Occurs

Nearly every digital platform can be a venue for online harassment. Social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter (renamed X), Snapchat, Facebook, and Kik are common online locations for online harassment. Online harassment also applies to more direct forms of communication, such as text messaging, email, and chat apps like WhatsApp. Even gaming platforms can be a landscape for online harassment.

What Types of Online Actions or Communications Can Cause Trouble?

Many different actions can constitute online harassment. These communications are behaviors that aim to scare, anger, or shame the targets. Here are a few examples to keep in mind:

  • Spreading lies about someone on social media or other digital platforms
  • Posting or sharing embarrassing photos or videos on social media or other digital platforms
  • Sending hurtful, abusive, or threatening messages, images, or videos via messaging platforms
  • Impersonating someone and sending hurtful, abusive, or threatening messages to others through fake accounts
  • Posting revenge porn
  • Any form of bullying through texts, phone calls, emails, messaging apps, social media platforms, or any other digital platform

What Are the Penalties in Pennsylvania for Online Harassment?

The consequences if you are found guilty of online harassment are no joke. Under Pennsylvania law, online harassment is a third-degree misdemeanor. A third-degree misdemeanor charge in Pennsylvania carries up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Consequences are even more severe if this is not your first offense or if you are guilty of online harassment against a person with a restraining order or other civil protection order against you.

Are Accusations of Online Harassment Serious Enough to Get a Lawyer?

You absolutely need a lawyer if you are facing online harassment charges. Pennsylvania law enforcement and prosecutors take online harassment claims seriously. You need an experienced criminal law attorney, and the LLF Law Firm is here to help. Call 888.535.3686 or contact us online today.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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