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If you are a regular user of such social media platforms as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, you have most likely had a first-hand experience with Internet trolls. Or, if you are reading this on the blog of our Los Angeles computer crimes defense attorney at Okabe &Haushalter, you may have even been branded a “troll” yourself and are being accused of a crime.
Wait, but is trolling someone on the Internet even a crime in California? Well, that depends on the nature of your trolling. But before we let our experienced computer crimes defense attorney in Los Angeles answer that question, let’s cover the basics first.
First and foremost, Internet trolling is defined by Urban Dictionary as “the art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off, usually via the internet, using dialogue.” An Internet troll is someone who makes other people feel miserable and upset with inflammatory and offensive comments, replies, photos, GIFs, and videos, all while taking advantage of the anonymity of the Internet.
You may have heard the phrase, “Do not feed the troll,” which is said by people on the Internet urging the target of Internet trolling not to respond to inflammatory, rude, and offensive comments. They say that the less attention you give to trolls, the less likely you are to become a victim of trolling.
Sometimes, however, the seemingly harmless trolling online transforms into something more serious such as cyberbullying, cyberstalking, harassment, and even threats of serious bodily injury or death against another person and/or their family.
But is trolling someone online a crime in California? How does California’s criminal justice system approach Internet trolling? First and foremost, it is important to understand that California law may consider online trolling as a form of cyberbullying, which is illegal in our state.
There is even administrative punishment by schools for students who engage in cyberbullying while on campus or during a school activity. Under California law, schools may suspend or expel students who engage in cyberbullying, which, in turn, causes fear and takes a toll on the target’s physical or mental health.
Also, according to California Penal Code, a person can be found guilty of the crime of stalking is he or she harasses another person with the intent to annoy, torment, or terrorize the victim. If the target is in reasonable fear for his or her safety and/or the safety of his/her family caused by willful, malicious, and repeated harassment, the perpetrator may be found guilty of the crime of stalking in California.
In fact, California law includes provisions for threats made via the Internet and other electronic means. “Internet trolling is often classified as stalking in California, which, in turn, can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony,” explains our Los Angeles computer crimes defense attorney at Okabe &Haushalter. “Under California law, a misdemeanor may lead to one year in county jail and a $1,000 fine, while a felony can result in up to five years in state prison and a $1,000 fine.”
Are you being accused of trolling someone on the Internet and your “target” is threatening that you will go to prison for committing a crime in California? Consult with our lawyers at Okabe & Haushalter to find out whether or not you have broken any laws in California or if your trolling was harmless and had no intent to annoy, torment, or terrorize the accuser. Call our offices at 310-430-7799 for a free case evaluation.