Be careful what you write on Facebook!
Recently the Pennsylvania Superior Court determined whether comments made in an on-line forum (Facebook) could constitute the criminal offense of Harassment.
In a case from Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, an 18-year-old girl was charged with the crime of Harassment after posting rude and lewd comments regarding her alleged 15-year-old victim. The police claimed that the comments established the crime of Harassment in that the 18-year-old communicated to or about another person in a lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene matter, by language, with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm the 15 year old.
The specifics of the Facebook statements can be found in the first two pages of the Superior Court opinion found here:
The 18-year-old defendant fought the charges and was found guilty by a jury of the crime of Harassment. She then appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. The Superior Court found that the evidence established that the 18-year-old posted a statement indicating that the victim suffered from a sexually transmitted disease in an online forum and that the statement was viewed by multiple people. The Court determined that the statement was sufficient to prove that the 18-year-old communicated lewd statements about the victim, to other people, and that it was a fair inference that doing so was an intentional attempt to harass, annoy or alarm the victim. Thus the Superior Court decided that the Facebook comments were criminal and did constitute the crime of Harassment.
The moral of this story seems to be that lewd and rude comments specifically directed at other individuals should be avoided at all costs. In this day and age it is not uncommon for someone to “go off” on another person in an online forum. Those tending to do so, however, should be warned that specifically identifying another person and making lewd and rude comments about the individual, at least in Pennsylvania, can lead to criminal charges. Of course, the best course of action is to simply refrain from any negative, rude or lewd comments that can be interpreted by another person, or more importantly, the police, as being of a harassing nature.
Those choosing to ignore simple codes of decency should not be surprised if they find themselves on the wrong side of the law and seeking the guidance of an attorney to help fight criminal charges.