Online Harassment Isn’t Just Wrong, It’s a Crime

StopMuch has been written, and much of that better than I could do, about the unfortunate and wrong online harassment in geek communities, especially geared towards women. Those women did nothing more than participate in our already marginalized community. They expressed their opinions, thoughts, and in general just communicated, for this they’ve been attacked by anonymous bullies. The fact they have thoughts and opinions seems too much for some online, who have threatened them with death, and threatened them with rape. Some have gone even further, attempting to access email accounts, bank accounts, and more.

First, it is unacceptable in any situation to threaten death or rape. There is no situation where this would be fine. And it especially is not ok to respond this way for someone having an opinion you don’t agree with. Going that route shows you have no original thought, lack maturity or the ability to communicate like an adult, and is a piss poor attempt at intimidation. But, the point of this article is, it is also a crime.

Through all of the discussion that’s been going on, and with all of the various comments made, numerous crimes have been committed. Some of them, like attempting to access bank accounts, are pretty serious, and can bring jail time if prosecuted. I won’t even go into the time and money suck if it’s just investigated (lawyers like to get paid!).

For those making these comments and committing these acts, pause and ask yourself, is it worth going to jail, because you disagree with someone about an opinion over a comic book? Think about trying to explain that one to your cell mate.

Harassment as defined in the U.S. computer statutes is generally when someone:

…use a computer or computer network to communicate obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language, or make any suggestion or proposal of an obscene nature, or threaten any illegal or immoral act.

Threatening death, and/or rape falls into the above. This is also usually different from cyber-bullying which has a definition unto itself. If you don’t believe online threats, even “jokes,” aren’t taken seriously, I give you this story of a teen who faces jail time for online “terror” threats. Here’s another example. And another. I could go on and on.

For the complete morons who think attempting to access bank accounts is intelligent or funny, this is a Cyber Crime. Not only do you have federal law to deal with, but many states have laws as well. Many countries too have adopted legislation and laws that make what I’m describing above a crime.

Penalties for violating cyber harassment laws vary widely by jurisdiction. In most cases, cyber harassment is charged as a misdemeanor. The more serious crime of cyber-stalking, however, may be a felony in some jurisdictions and punishable by a lengthy prison sentence.

I ask again to the “anonymous” harassers, is disagreeing about comics a big enough deal for you to go to jail for?

While freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the first amendment, the results due to that free speech are not, and in reality not all speech is protected either. You have a right to say what you want, but the fallout due to that, you get to deal with as well. Speech with the intent to “harm or intimidate” is not protected. The Supreme Court itself has said it is “statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group” Rape threats, and death threats qualify.

Many have spoken out saying we all need to speak out about this intimidation whenever and wherever we see it. I agree with that completely. But enough is enough. Crimes have been committed on various websites, in forums, over email, on social networks. We all need to stand up, we all need to take this all seriously. We need to speak up when we see this. To the people who these threats are directed towards, these acts perpetrated against, I encourage you to turn in these criminals to their and your local police departments, their and your attorneys general, and the FBI. This is serious stuff, crimes are being committed. Documenting them not only helps you, but others who might also be experiencing the same thing from the same individuals.

This site stands for equality and inclusiveness, we log IP addresses for comments and messages to us, and will turn them in, no questions asked. I encourage other sites to stand up and join us in cooperating and not tolerating this behavior. This is our community and this site our corner of that community. It is our responsibility to make it open and welcoming to all.