Is Repeatedly “Re-Tagging” Someone on Facebook Considered Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is often a component of domestic violence cases. Individuals can use the Internet to harass, threaten, or even terrorize their victims. In many cases, these victims can seek an injunction against cyberstalking under Florida law. At the same time, conduct that is merely annoying or offensive remains constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment.
Appeals Court Overturns Injunction Issued Against Florida Attorney Over Defamation Allegations
A recent decision from the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals, Krapacs v. Bacchus, helps to illustrate the balancing act courts must perform when separating illegal cyberstalking from protected speech. This case involves a fairly unique scenario.
The petitioner in this case is an attorney. She was hired to represent a second attorney who brought a defamation lawsuit against a third attorney (the respondent). The respondent had previously sought a domestic violence injunction against her ex-boyfriend. The second attorney successfully represented the ex-boyfriend in that proceeding. Unhappy with that outcome, the respondent then published an article alleging the second attorney had lied to the judge during the hearing on her domestic violence injunction. This prompted the aforementioned defamation lawsuit.
In response to that lawsuit, the respondent then started posting “disparaging” information on social media about the petitioner. As described by the Fourth District, the respondent repeatedly “tagged” the petitioner in various Facebook posts, forcing the petitioner to spend hours “un-tagging herself,” only to have the respondent repeatedly “re-tag” her.
Eventually, the petitioner filed her own petition seeking a cyberstalking injunction against the respondent. A circuit court judge granted the injunction. But the Fourth District reversed, holding that the respondent’s actions did not cross the line into cyberstalking as it “did not constitute a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over time evidencing a continuity of purpose.” The appellate court noted that some of the respondent’s actions here did not fit within a “pattern of conduct” as they were “constitutionally protected activities.”
At the same time, the Fourth District cautioned that if the respondent had, in fact, made false or defamatory statements, the petitioner could seek damages in a separate civil lawsuit. But as far as cyberstalking was concerned, the only actions that threatened to cross the line here was the repeated “re-tagging” described above. But “angry social media postings,” in and of themselves, were not cyberstalking.
Speak with a Florida Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer Today
It is important to understand that when cyberstalking occurs, it is considered a criminal offense in Florida. You can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. And if prosecutors can prove the cyberstalking involved making a “credible threat,” the charge can be bumped up to a third-degree felony.
But as the case above illustrates, isolated incidents of harassment or negative posting directed at an individual do not rise to the level of cyberstalking. Of course, you should always think before you post on social media. And remember, once you do post something, you should assume it will remain on the Internet forever.
If you need legal advice or representation in connection with a cyberstalking or domestic violence charge from an experienced Miami criminal attorney, contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos today at 305-676-9545 to schedule a free consultation.