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When Can Electronic Communications Get You Charged With a Crime?

There’s no doubt that the tone of discourse on social media sites has coarsened. Many people have no problem lashing out at a celebrity or other public figure they’ll never meet in person. As America’s deep political and cultural divisions have widened in recent years, some of what’s posted on mainstream social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram has become increasingly threatening.

One communications professor explains that “when somebody has their phone, or they’re sitting at a computer, they’re behind a screen so they feel more distant from the things they’re saying….” Sometimes, those things can be perceived as very real threats. In some cases they are, and in most cases they aren’t. However, the point is that the person they’re directed at can feel that their safety and even their life is in danger.

What does Pennsylvania law say?

You don’t even have to threaten physical harm to someone to be charged with a crime. Pennsylvania has laws against cyberstalking and cyber harassment. For example, someone who “engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly communicates to another person” in a manner that places them “in reasonable fear of bodily injury…[or causes] substantial emotional distress to such other person.”

It can be all too easy to get carried away with social media posts, emails and other online communications. Whether it’s an ex, a co-worker, your favorite actor or musician, someone with a different political view than yours or an elected official, it’s crucial to be careful what you write in electronic communications to them. Even if you’re able to delete something, if it was sent or posted, it could still be considered a crime.

If you’re facing cyberstalking, harassment or other internet-related charges, it’s crucial that you take them seriously. Having experienced legal guidance can help you protect your rights.