When can Online Threats be Charged?

Posted on October 10, 2016

The internet can be a very mean place to be. Twitter exchanges can get heated, comments on social media profiles can turn nasty, and it takes just a comment or two for a news article’s discussion section to turn into an all-out flame war.

Why does this happen so much? Well, the anonymity of the internet, the increased access to information, and the natural human tendency to gravitate towards negativity will often pull the worst out of people.

When does a threat cross the line?

While many internet-savvy users will roll their eyes at the seriousness of internet threats, they can (and definitely do) cross a line sometimes. Where that line is exactly is a judgment call, but there are a few criteria that can help you determine whether a threat can be construed as criminal online activity or not.

A threat becomes criminal when:

  • The exchange in question was intended to be taken as a threat,
  • The threat scared the receiver, and caused them to fear for their or their family’s immediate safety, or
  • Based on context, there was reason to believe the aggressor meant to cause harm and/or death

It’s not too hard to tell that those rules are rather subjective in nature, but the basic gist is that if the person being threatened became legitimately fearful as a result, they can likely bring up criminal charges against the aggressor.

Threats, whether online or in-person, are taken extremely seriously by law enforcement. Students have been arrested for posting that they were going to bring a gun to school, former employees have been arrested for threatening to burn an old employer’s building down, etc.

It can be a misdemeanor, or even a felony, to make criminal threats online, so it’s worth taking an extra minute or two to regain your composure before replying to a nasty comment.

If you are being charged with a criminal threat, or you have been the victim of criminal threats online, do not hesitate to get in touch with an attorney skilled in internet law. You may have legal options.

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photo by NotFromUtrecht on Wikimedia Commons