Threats Online? California Law Sets the Limits

In the digital age, where political and social debates often turn heated on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, it's crucial to understand the legal boundaries of online communication in California. You might think you're just venting, but missteps in what you post or threatening messages can lead to serious legal repercussions, including fines and jail time. When do idle threats and smack talk on social media become something criminal?

Understanding Threats and Harassment Online

In California, various laws address the issue of online threats and harassment. For example, California Penal Code 653.2 criminalizes the act of posting harmful information with the intent of placing someone in fear for their safety, or that of their immediate family. This is often termed 'indirect electronic harassment' or 'cyberstalking'. Cyberbullying also falls under this penal code and could lead to up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1000 or both.

Criminal Threats

Making a criminal threat, including through digital means, is a serious offense under California Penal Code 422. This law applies to threats of violence communicated via social media, emails, texts, and other online methods. The thread needs to be explicit enough to cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety​. The legal system will have to play a role in proving the validity of a threat, but if you think someone is threatening you with violence, you should contact the police.

Cyberstalking and Cyber Harassment

Cyberstalking under Penal Code 646.9 includes actions like repeatedly following or harassing someone online and making credible threats. It can lead to restraining orders and, depending on the severity, criminal charges that may result in significant jail time​.

Additional Consequences for Minors

For minors, cyberbullying and cyberstalking can lead to charges in juvenile court, with an emphasis on rehabilitation. However, severe cases may be transferred to adult courts, depending on the nature of the offenses and the age of the perpetrator​.

Legal Consequences and Penalties: Misdemeanors and Felonies

Online harassment can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, influenced by factors such as the offender's criminal history and the specific nature of the offense. Penalties can range from fines and restraining orders to several years in state prison for more severe cases​ (Chambers Law Firm)​​ (Findlaw)​.

Platform Penalties

Beyond legal repercussions, social media platforms like Twitter have their own policies against harassment, which can lead to additional penalties such as account suspension or downranking of content in search results​ (Minc Law)​.

What To Do if You Are Being Threatened

It's vital for individuals engaging in online discussions to remain aware of the legal implications of their words and actions. The line between a heated argument and unlawful behavior can be thin, and crossing it can lead to severe consequences, both legally and socially.  If you think someone on the other end of a conversation is threatening you, seek counsel and contact your local authorities.

DEA Shares Locations Of 11 Scary Meth Labs In California

Are any of these scary meth labs near your home, neighborhood, or work?

Gallery Credit: Chris Cardenas

DEA Shares Locations Of 11 Scary Meth Labs In California

Are any of these scary meth labs near your home, neighborhood, or work?

Gallery Credit: Chris Cardenas