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What constitutes cyber harassment under New Jersey’s laws?

Digital communication on the internet has changed the way that people interact. Distance no longer matters. The internet can even help people resolve language barriers through the use of translation software. It has never been easier to communicate with other people all over the world.

Digital communication also has a dark side. It makes it easier for people to stalk, abuse and harass someone, often with the perceived veil of anonymity. Persistent online harassment can affect someone’s career success or mental health. New Jersey has laws to help protect residents from cyber harassment or bullying. How does the law define cyber harassment?

Cyber harassment involves abusive language or stalking behavior

There are many behaviors that could quickly lead to accusations of cyber harassment. Making threatening and aggressive statements to someone online is an obvious example. Threatening physical harm or other criminal acts against an individual, their property or their family members can constitute cyber harassment.

The same is true of making lewd and unsolicited statements to others or sending them images that will traumatize or upset them, as well as sharing content involving them with the intent of causing anguish. However, even seemingly more innocent behaviors could lead to charges of cyber harassment.

If you repeatedly follow someone from platform to platform when they ask you to stop contacting them or block you, that could also constitute cyber harassment. The same is true of making multiple fake accounts, such as burner or sock puppet accounts, to get around someone blocking you.

What are the possible consequences of cyber harassment in New Jersey?

For those accused of standard forms of cyber harassment, like bullying a classmate or abusing a coworker online, the consequences could include a fourth-degree criminal charge that carries

18 months of incarceration and up to $10,000 in fines.

Certain situations, like an adult impersonating a minor online, could lead to more serious penalties. If you cyberbully someone who you live with, are related to or have had an intimate relationship with in the past, you could find yourself accused of domestic violence for what you post or say to them online.

Those accused of cyber harassment may have options for defending themselves. Options range from showing that someone used your device to demonstrating that the alleged victim manipulated screenshots. Talking over your situation with an attorney will typically be the first step toward developing a workable defense strategy for these potentially serious charges.