Social media users bewarePublished 9:22am Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Last year saw an abundance of news relating to social media.
Apple visionary Steve Jobs passed on to the great network in the sky; “selfie” was both the 2013 word of the year, according to Oxford Dictionary due to drastic climb in usage, as well as one of the top 2013 words to be banned by Michigan’s Lake Superior State University.
With all of the online social interactions taking place, it is important to note that there are responsibilities that come with the technology. It might be a good idea to become informed on certain statutes to ensure that your 2014 stays on track to be the best year it can be—sans charges for criminal electronic behavior.
Former District Attorney Claiborne “Buddy” McDonald says that some of the posts on Facebook and other social media are under the civil law slander.
“I would expect to see civil law suits to be filed on these matters in the future,” McDonald says. “Some social media posts are already being used in courts for various purposes. Some of the continuing posts, which are harassing and abusive, may fall into the area of crimes depending on facts. People should be very cautious in what they say about others on social media.”
Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn, with the state Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Division, says that there has been a noted increase in complaints over the last year in the categories of obscene electronic communications and cyberstalking.
According to Miss. Code Ann. § 97-29-45 (2013), obscene electronic communications states that “It is unlawful for any person or persons: (a) To make any comment, request, suggestion or proposal by means of telecommunication or electronic communication which is obscene, lewd or lascivious with intent to abuse, threaten or harass any party to a telephone conversation, telecommunication or electronic communication; (b) To make telecommunication or electronic communication with intent to terrify, intimidate or harass, and threaten to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or to his property; (c) To make a telephone call, whether or not conversation ensues, without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person at the called number; (e) To make repeated calls, during which conversation ensues, solely to harass any person at the called number; or (f) Knowingly permit a computer or a telephone of any type under his control to be used for any purpose prohibited by this section.”
The days of having to say things publicly and the opportunity to cool down before speaking is non-existent now, thanks to instant communication that is as easy as the push of a button and with no face-to-face interaction. This makes it easier to say things which would not normally be said and for situations to escalate.
Cyberstalking is also a crime. It is addressed in Miss. Code Ann. § 97-45-15 which states that “1) It is unlawful for a person to: (a) Use in electronic mail or electronic communication any words or language threatening to inflict bodily harm to any person or to that person’s child, sibling, spouse or dependent, or physical injury to the property of any person, or for the purpose of extorting money or other things of value from any person; b) Electronically mail or electronically communicate to another repeatedly, whether or not conversation ensues, for the purpose of threatening, terrifying or harassing any person; (c) Electronically mail or electronically communicate to another and to knowingly make any false statement concerning death, injury, illness, disfigurement, indecent conduct, or criminal conduct of the person electronically mailed or of any member of the person’s family or household with the intent to threaten, terrify or harass; “(d) Knowingly permit an electronic communication device under the person’s control to be used for any purpose prohibited by this section.”
Both of these crimes, while broad in definition have serious penalties for those who do not practice restraint.
Obscene electronic communications convictions have penalties ranging from $500 for first offense or imprisonment for not more that six months or both to third offense convictions which, if committed within five years are felonies and along with a possible $2,000 fine, the offender could be sentenced to the state penitentiary for not more than two years or both.
A cyberstalking conviction is an automatic felony and carries a fine of $5,000 or two years in a penitentiary or both. This crime also has an enhancement which applies if the offender has had a previous conviction, even if it was in another state.
“Not all rise to the level of prosecution,” Ogburn says. “There are some that are conflicts and in order to be prosecuted, there must be either be a credible threat of harm or clear intent to harass. But for those that do show intent, we prosecute.”