California Online Harassment Laws

In the recent years, online harassment or cyberharassment has become an important issue. This is because the Internet has changed our lives on so many levels. Generally, the law prohibits harassment and our readers should consider taking certain precautions when being harassed.

Cyberharassment is different from cyberstalking because it does not involve a credible threat. Cyberharassment occurs when someone sends harassing email messages, instant messages, or posts entries simply to torment another person. Different jurisdictions have different approaches in addressing cyberharassment in codifying their laws. For example, some include language addressing electronic communications in general harassment statutes. However, some states have created stand-alone cyberharassment statutes.

California Penal Code section 653.2(a) states that, “[e]very person who, with intent to place another person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of the other person’s immediate family, by means of an electronic communication device, and without consent of the other person, and for the purpose of imminently causing that other person unwanted physical contact, injury, or harassment, by a third party, electronically distributes, publishes, e-mails, hyperlinks, or makes available for downloading, personal identifying information, including, but not limited to, a digital image of another person, or an electronic message of a harassing nature about another person, which would be likely to incite or produce that unlawful action, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in a county jail, by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.

See California Penal Code section 422 related to hate crimes. See also California Penal Code section 653m for more information.