It’s reported on the news all the time. Or maybe you have experienced it yourself. Either way, the internet has normalized harassment, death threats, doxxing and other traumatic actions committed by people who find it acceptable to do these things as long as they have a computer screen to hide behind. But did you know that depending on the severity, there are laws in place that can result in both state and/or federal felony charges?
Across the country, state lawmakers are actively working to further define what constitutes as a chargeable offense and at what level of severity the charges would result in. Even the lawmakers who are on the receiving end of the threats are starting to share screenshots of their messages which has resulted in the attackers getting fired for this type of behavior.
What is “doxxing”?
Avast, one of the top antivirus security software in the US, describes the potential criminal implications of “doxxing”, which can carry state and/or federal prosecution.
“Doxxing (also spelled doxing) is the act of revealing someone’s personal information online. Doxxing is a form of online harassment that means publicly exposing someone’s real name, address, job, or other identifying data. Doxxing happens without a victim’s consent, with the aim of humiliating or bullying a victim.”
What actions are eligible for federal prosecution?
As summarized by PEN America’s Online Harassment Field Manual, the federal laws apply when the harassments and threats happen across state lines using the internet or other channel of interstate communication (telephones). Below is a summary of the relevant law codes and the potential penalties for these actions.
Online Harassment Resources and Laws by State
Below I have compiled a list states and the laws and resources to provide a high level review of what it means for the victim being harassed online and the potential penalties for the perpetrator. Some links will go to non-government resources and some will take you straight to the state’s statutes, but all are meant to be a quick reference if you are experiencing anything mentioned in this article. You may have a strong case to press charges, so if you think there is a chance something bad could happen, it wouldn’t hurt to see what the police can do early on. You should consult a lawyer for guidance on what can be done, and since I am not a lawyer nor am I giving legal advice it is up to you on how you want to approach.
Click on any of the boxes to see the information for your state.
Stay Safe Out There
If you legitimately feel that your life may be at risk, don’t second guess yourself. Take screenshots, pictures, recordings, messages and anything else that can be added into the police report. The police have a non-emergency phone number or you can go to the police station on your own. You never know how many others have come forward with the exact same experience, and talking to the police may assist in finding the repeat offenders.
PEN America is deeply grateful to Covington & Burling LLP and C.A. Goldberg, PLLC Victims’ Rights Law Firm for providing pro bono feedback and insights on legal considerations for people facing online abuse. We are also grateful to TrustLaw, Thomson Reuters Foundation for facilitating this pro bono legal support.
IMPORTANT: THE INFORMATION PROVIDED ON THIS WEBPAGE IS OFFERED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. THE INFORMATION DOES NOT, AND IS NOT INTENDED TO, CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE, NOR IS IT INTENDED TO REPLACE THE ASSISTANCE OF A LAWYER OR LAW ENFORCEMENT.