The internet and our digital devices afford us an easy way to keep up to date with friends and family. This can happen through social media, direct emails, video platforms, text messages, and other ways. But just as face-to-face has specific written and unwritten rules for safe face-to-face interaction, there are now laws regarding online harassment, stalking, or cyberbullying.
There are some questions about what qualifies as cyberstalking. This can reflect the break-in from the norms of respectful behavior or the challenge of interpreting intent in a message delivered digitally rather than in person with body language, tone of voice and real-time context. The law regards stalking as the occasion when the individual consciously or knowingly exhibits threatening behavior toward another. Often it is done repeatedly. It also may be a situation that is not threatening but still causes distress to the target and their family.
Some common red flags
The digital line in the sand can be hard to recognize, particularly for minors. Still, there are some instances where the communication goes from being a nuisance-like behavior to being construed as cyberstalking:
- Any use of digital technology to methodically contact someone with no interest in connecting
- Any messages where the recipient requests the sender to stop contacting them
- Inappropriate and sometimes disturbing messengering that leave the recipient feeling distressed, fearful, anxious, and worried
- Tactics that attempt to humiliate, intimidate, coerce, or control the recipient
- Following a target by joining the same online groups or forums
- Comment on (or even “like”) everything a target posts online
- Repeatedly reaching out to the target
The penalties for stalking
Colorado generally considers stalking as a Class 5 felony, but it could be a Class 4 if there is a prior history of this behavior or protection order was in place at the time. Stalking charges can mean time in jail, probation, fines, and alternative sentencing. There will be a parole period.
Defendants are innocent until proven guilty
Those facing cyberstalking charges still enjoy all the rights that the law affords. The prosecution must also prove knowing intent instead of a misunderstanding or accidental incident. There may be other mitigating factors if the target is a public figure, where the defendant may be exercising their First Amendment rights. Regardless of the circumstances, defendants must take these accusations seriously to avoid severe penalties or additional charges down the line.