Stalking behaviors by one person directed at another are nothing new. The motivation may be anger, unrequited romantic interest, jealousy or other reasons. But actions such as following a person, attempting to interact with a person or communicating with others about that person in a harmful manner is frequently illegal.
What is relatively new is the misuse of the Internet as an extension of stalking activity. But while “ordinary” stalking is easy to identify, for example, following a person, showing up at his or her home or place of work unexpectedly, making unwanted phone calls, leaving unwanted gifts, or even issuing threats, the question in the age of the Internet becomes, “How does one ‘virtually’ stalk another?”
The answer to this question is based on how the Internet has changed, added to or extended the activities that constitute stalking. Some ways that a person can engage in cyberstalking include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Sending unwanted emails. This is perhaps the most common form of cyberstalking with more than 80 percent of cyberstalking victims report receiving such unwelcome attention.
- Using the Internet to follow another person in improper ways. As an example, the availability of sites that can make another person’s address, phone number, identity of relatives or even court records available for a small fee opens a range of unwanted and even dangerous possibilities for cyberstalking or even in-person stalking.
- Using social media and other virtual means to maliciously damage the reputation of another. An ex-spouse or lover who posts compromising photos on the Internet, or who spreads false or defamatory statements about another person, is engaging in a form of cyberstalking. This particular form of behavior is related to “cyberbullying,” and in some cases the effect can be so devastating that the victim has even committed suicide as a result.
The advent of cyberstalking, and both federal and New Jersey laws meant to combat it, can at times risk confusing innocent curiosity with unhealthy obsession. Although most of the time those accused of virtual stalking may deserve the accusation, it can be possible to be charged with such behavior when there was no malicious intent.
Anyone who has been charged with cyberstalking may want to retain an experienced criminal defense law firm to protect his or her rights in negotiations and, if necessary, at trial.