There is a new group of criminal laws being written and enacted across the country. These laws are designed to punish people who, through social medial sites or other online forums, attempt to harm someone. While many people think of these acts as practical jokes, the injury is considered very real by lawmakers and judges alike—proving the offense, however, is a little more difficult..
In Texas, the online impersonation law was passed in 2009. Since then, it’s been used relatively rarely and for several reasons. Firstly, it’s difficult to catch someone in the act and since the law depends on a victim to report the crime, few cases are ever brought to law enforcement’s attention. Second, proving “intent to harm” can be difficult in a court of law.
Online impersonation refers to setting up a social media profile in someone else’s name, or otherwise using their identity to wreak havoc. One example the Houston Chronicle gives is a woman who took out a Craigslist ad seeking sexual partners, posting another woman’s photo and phone number. Another case involved someone signing up the victim for a prisoner online pen pal program.
While a few decades ago, such matters would likely be seen as practical jokes gone too far, those days are passed. Now, if you commit an offense like this, you face serious felony criminal charges.
Since the law was passed, it’s only been enforced 16 times in Harris County. The above mentioned problems make it a difficult law to keep tabs on, say prosecutors.
Opponents of the legislation say the law simply wasn’t needed—that identity theft or criminal impersonation was already illegal. Still, the law passed.
It covers impersonation done on Facebook and other social media sites, as well as blogs and websites. The act must be done with an intent to harm the alleged victim. Obviously, a satirical profile of a public figure, for instance, wouldn’t likely garner criminal charges. But, if the profile was made to seriously hinder the career or cause malicious damage to the personal life of the official, then it could be a violation of the law.
It seems like with each passing year, we find new behaviors to criminalize—many of which already fall under existing criminal statutes. Soon, we’ll need a criminal law primer in every household.
If you are facing criminal charges for something like impersonation, harassment, or even stalking—we may be able to help. Contact our offices today to discuss your case.