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Online harassment

What if I’m accused of online harassment?

By July 13, 2016April 6th, 2022No Comments

When you hear the word “stalker”, what image comes to mind? Perhaps a shadowy figure trailing a woman as she walks home from work or maybe an angry ex-girlfriend following her ex-boyfriend around town. We usually have a depiction in our head of one person keeping tabs on another; no matter where the victim goes, this lurker is not far behind. We don’t think of a stalker as someone hundreds, or even thousands of miles away. We don’t typically imagine stalkers who have never seen their victim in person. We certainly don’t think of ourselves, messaging a coworker or classmate every day to hang out as harassment.

Online harassment can quickly spiral out of control

It can be hard to believe that such a quick, simple action as this could potentially be harmful like taking the time to tail a person all around town. Our friends and family are accessible 24/7 through just a few taps on a touch screen, a motion that is second nature to many young adults today. However, this ease of communication tosses us into an entirely new and unfamiliar grey area that our parents’ generation was not forced to explore. “It’s been 20 minutes since I received a response. Should I send that third text in a row?” “I’m not getting a reply, is calling too much?” It can be hard to tell (especially when one is not face-to-face with the person) what is considered friendly, what is intimidating, and where the line is. Because of this, an increasing number of stalking cases are taking place entirely online.

Generally, “cyber harassment” is a process as opposed to an isolated incident and this process occurs relentlessly, amplifying the distress to the person on the receiving end. Cyber harassment can happen through text, email, social media, or any means of electronic communication.

If you have been accused of cyberstalking, ask yourself a few questions:

1. Could your messages be seen as excessive? An example could be sending many unnecessary texts in a short amount of time without necessarily receiving any response.

2. Is the other person replying?

3. Are their responses enthusiastic or are they just expressing lukewarm interest in the conversation?

4. Have they indicated that they do not wish to talk?

Other examples of cyber harassment include, but are not limited to:

  • Creating online profiles, pretending to be another person
  • Posting private photos from an ex without their consent (“revenge porn”)
  • Encouraging others to participate in the online bullying of another
  • Repeatedly calling someone in order to intimidate or provoke them
  • Monitoring another person online via “check-ins” in order to meet up with them (against their wishes)

If you think you may have cyber harassed, here are some steps that you can take to address the situation:

  1. If you are under the age of 18, go to your parents and inform them in detail about what happened. If the situation turns into a legal matter, they will be just as much involved as you.
  2. Remove anything that you have posted online that you believe could be considered harassment. This should be done by all and not only to avoid repercussions.
  3. If you are accused of general online harassment, in addition to removing any harmful content, it is important to apologize. Let the other person know that you are genuinely regret the emotional harm your actions caused and are taking steps to correct them. However, if you are accused of cyberstalking, it is best to not contact the other person to try to explain or even apologize, as this could be seen as further communication against their wishes[DS1] .
  4. Reflect on the motivations behind your actions that caused harm; understanding these will help to prevent future incidents.
  5. Consult an attorney! Even after removing harmful posts and apologizing, legal trouble can still arise. Only an attorney who has handled this sort of case before will be able to give you proper advice on how to proceed in order to avoid costly legal disputes.

Above all, always be cognizant of what you say and do online. Once something is on the internet, it can never be completely erased!

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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