The adent of the internet has given rise to a new kind of domestic violence crime—cyber stalking. Commonly defined as repeated unwanted contact through electronic communication, many states across the U.S. have introduced strict legislation to combat cyber stalking. In Colorado, stalking is a serious offense—whether it occurs in the real world or online. Even if you don’t follow, contact, or threaten someone in person, there are many online behaviors you can engage in that may be considered stalking.
Tracking a victim’s online activities. If you obsessively monitor a victim’s social media posts or try to obtain information about them through online searches of court records, address listings, and the like, you might be able to be charged with stalking. And if you trace someone’s IP address in an attempt to seek out more information about them, this is definite evidence that can be used against you.
Sending hostile messages. You might think that sending messages to someone’s email or social media accounts is harmless, but if these messages can be construed as threatening, manipulative, or lewd, or if you send unwanted pornographic images and videos, it is possible that someone may press charges against you.
Posting false information online. Something else that you need to avoid is trying to humiliate anyone by posting hurtful information about them on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. Additionally, it is not okay to create your own blogs or websites dedicated to insulting the victim, or submit untrue information about them to Wikipedia and other public information sharing groups.
Convincing others to harass the victim. If you broadcast false information online in order to damage a person’s reputation or post someone’s phone number on Facebook or another public forum and encourage others to harass them them, you may be opening yourself up to legal action.
Sending viruses or offensive images. It may seem like harmless fun to spam someone’s email inbox with viruses or gain control of their operating system so that you can make it display pornographic images, but this can be considered an act of harassment and stalking if you are singling the individual out.
Hacking into online accounts. Hacking into a person’s email, banking, and other personal accounts to find out more information about them and possibly even change their passwords and personal settings on these accounts is a surefire way to have charges brought against you.
Impersonating a victim. If you hack into another individual’s Facebook or other social media account to post offensive material under their name, create online social networking and dating accounts while pretending that you are this person, or sign up for online mailing lists and services under their name, this is something that can lead to criminal charges.
Using other accounts to get around privacy settings. A person who feels he or she is being stalked might try to prevent the offender from contacting them by changing privacy settings on their social media platforms, email accounts, and phones. If you try to get around these barriers by using multiple accounts to achieve contact, this is something that can be considered stalking.
Harassing victim’s friends and family. If you attempt to find out more information about another person by contacting or threatening their friends and family members online, or by posting advertisements soliciting information about the victim, you may be opening yourself up to legal action.
Using spy software to monitor victims. There are many programs and devices that allow people to monitor cell phone conversations, text messages, and a specific person’s location. It’s also possible to use spy software to remotely access individuals’ computers to witness their electronic activity firsthand. Doing either of these things is legally considered a form of stalking.
You may think that there’s no harm in monitor, harassing, or otherwise gathering information about someone online as opposed to in the flesh, because no physical harm can occur. But online stalking is a grave crime with severe consequences. Those convicted of stalking can face imprisonment, large fines, and a public criminal record.
Colorado law takes stalking very seriously, and you should too. Use the internet responsibly, and respect the privacy and dignity of other users. And if you’ve already been charged with stalking in Colorado—whether digitally or otherwise—it’s critical that you contact a criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with experience in domestic abuse cases may be able to minimize the consequences or find extenuating evidence that can prevent conviction.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.