When Does a Facebook Argument Become Cyberbullying?

February 27, 2018 · by rosenblumlawfirm · in

Maybe you’re one of those people who delights in pestering people on Facebook who hold opposing political views. Or maybe you just have one of those friends who insists on turning everything into an argument. Whether you find such banter amusing or annoying, you need to be careful lest you end up being accused of cyberbullying.

How does a conversation become a crime? Sometimes it’s the result of a misunderstanding. The internet is not the most ideal way for human beings to communicate. The lack of inflection and body language can lead to serious misinterpretation of meaning and tone. In fact, one study found people have a 50/50 chance of misreading the tone of a post or comment on the internet, despite people believing they got it right 90 percent of the time. As a result, an off-color joke or heated conversation can easily go awry.

New Jersey’s cyberbullying law is very broad and almost any threatening or violent language, when communicated via a digital medium, runs the risk of being classified cyberbullying. However, some things are more legally risky than others. For example, repeatedly sending unwanted private or public messages that are sexual in nature to someone (especially a woman) could be considered cyberbullying. Likewise, a political argument that has devolved into talk about violence to an entire group – whether that group is Trump supporters or illegal immigrants – can potentially qualify if the recipient of the message is a member of that group. A direct threat to a specific person (“I ought to knock your teeth out”) is very likely to qualify.

The question of when a Facebook comment becomes a case of cyberbullying boils down to a few things, but mostly it hinges on whether the language would cause a reasonable person to fear for his/her safety. If a defense attorney can prove that the comments are innocuous or a form of personal expression then there is a good chance of avoiding a conviction.  

The consequences for cyberbullying can be very serious. A conviction carries a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. However, under certain circumstances, such as when a person over the age of 21 poses as a minor in order to harass a minor, it can be charged as a third-degree crime. In that case, a conviction means three to five years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines. New Jersey also considers cyberbullying to be grounds for a restraining order.

If you or a loved one has been charged with cyberbullying, domestic violence, or violating a restraining order, contact an attorney right away to help minimize the consequences. The lawyers of the Rosenblum Law Firm are prominent criminal defense attorneys are prominent criminal with experience helping people in similar situations. Email the Rosenblum Law Firm or call 888-815-3649 for a free consultation about your case today.