Criminal Defamation Charges for Creating Fake Social Media Accounts

Using the internet to slander or hurt another person such as creating face social media accounts may result in teens facing criminal defamation charges.

Tech age

Photo by: Summer Skyes 11

Much of the communications going on between teenagers takes place over electronic devices through the use of text messaging as well as social media apps including Instagram, SnapChat, and Facebook. Often when things go sour, teens will take to the internet to simply vent and sometimes to retaliate on those who wronged them. Long ago were the days of whispering gossip in the school halls, as now everything is done from a teen’s cell phone. Malicious posts, IM’s, and even seconds long messages can spread like wildfire on social media, causing a lot of damage in its wake.

Fake social media accounts

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One very damaging way that teens may lash out at one another online is by creating fake social media accounts. These fake social media accounts are created to look as though they belong to the other person, leaving the begrudged peer open to ruin the other’s online reputation. Fake social media accounts are simple to set up and usually free as well. All that is needed is an email address which is also simple to obtain and a fake name, or the exact name of the detested teen. Photos can be easily stolen from the profiles of online accounts and teens then have a way to get revenge on those they loathe.

Digital footprint

Photo by: G =]

What happens on the internet stays on the internet and leaves a digital footprint there as well. Although social media accounts and email servers don’t require identification and can be created using phony information, law enforcement has ways to tie these malicious accounts back to the person that created them. When online communications are being spread at another’s expense, the aggressor could face criminal defamation charges.

Criminal defamation

Criminal Defamation
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Utah Code 76-9-404 states: “A person is guilty of criminal defamation if he knowingly communicates to any person orally or in writing [or online] any information which he knows to be false and knows will tend to expose any other living person to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule. Criminal defamation is a class B misdemeanor”, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000. Additionally, if any personal information about a minor is shared on the fake social media account without permission, the accused may also face a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500. Teens who are facing criminal charges for publicly slandering another online are encouraged to immediately seek legal counsel with their parents.

Sexual Bullying by Teenage Girls

Teenage girls are continually educated to recognize and report instances of sexual harassment at school, yet some may unknowingly be the perpetrators in what is referred to as sexual bullying, a type of harassment.

Harassment knows no gender

Sexual bullying
Photo by: Alena Navarro- Whyte

Many kids are taught from a young age that inappropriate words or actions that make them uncomfortable may be harassment and should not be tolerated. Unfortunately, much of the emphasis over the years has been depicting girls as usually being the victims. Most teenage girls nowadays understand that sexual harassment knows no gender and that disciplinary action may result from any unwelcomed touching of their peers. Few realize however, that similar consequences may follow from sexual harassment in the form of bullying.

Slut shaming

One way that teenage girls may unknowingly be guilty of sexual bullying their peers is through what is known as slut shaming. Slut shaming is done when one person labels another as being overly sexual or “easy”, making them feel bad for their past of current sexual behaviors or relationships. This is a problem that all too frequently can include girls as both the victims and the perpetrators.

Gossiping and rumors

Gossiping and spreading rumors is another way that sexual bullying can take place and is rampant amid both genders. Hurtful remarks or phrases about someone’s sexuality or body parts, whether or not they are true may be written on bathroom stalls, texted to classmates, or even said directly or indirectly to the victims. Teens may see these instances as nothing more that mean jokes or downplay them as needing to be done to establish a pecking order; to the victim and authorities however, it is sexual bullying.

Educate all teenagers on sexual bullying

It is essential that all teenagers, both male and female, are properly educated on what type of behavior may be considered sexual bullying or harassment. It is encouraged that all youth and their parents review the sexual harassment policy offered by every school district in the state. Any sexual bullying or harassment that has ensued in criminal consequences should be discussed with a juvenile defense attorney.

Electronic Communication Harassment for Prank Calling

Prank calling is a favorite past time for many teens, but there are times when it can lead to electronic communication harassment charges.

Is your refrigerator running?

Photo by: Bonnie Nacko
Photo by: Bonnie Nacko

According to Utah Code 76-9-201, charges for electronic communication harassment can ensue from merely prank calling a number and being annoying. With prank calls such as these, electronic communication charges can follow when there is repeated contact or any contact after the person being called has asked not to be pranked again. This includes calling and hanging up and unfortunately this law doesn’t seem to apply to telemarketers.

Taking things a little too far

Occasionally, prank calls can take a darker tone when pranksters move from jokes into insults, taunts or threats. If the prank calling causes the person on the other line to be fearful or if the call is threatening or prone to “provoke a violent or disorderly response”, one call is all that is needed to be slapped with electronic communication harassment.

Hi, hi, hi, hey, hello, :), <3, sup, bro, dude…

When friends blow up another’s text messages with repeated IM’s, it is annoying and illegal. Utah code states that this can cause “disruption, jamming or overload of an electronic communication system”, and is technically electronic communication harassment. While this may be innocent and just for fun, make sure both parties feel that way.

Know the limits of the law and who you’re calling

Most prank calls are harmless and take place between friends; however there are individuals that find this annoying prank to be offensive. When a person on the other end of the prank call decides to press charges, minors can expect to face a class A misdemeanor for a first offense or a 3rd degree felony if this is a repeat offense of electronic communication harassment. For more information regarding electronic communication harassment for minors, contact a juvenile criminal defense attorney.

Cyberbullying a Serious Issue in Utah, Punishable by Law

cyberbullying in Utah
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With the growing popularity of social media sites and electronic forms of communication, many teens are communicating less and less in actual face-to-face situations. Even though this is the case, bullying among juveniles is still occurring. In fact, cyberbullying is often worse because the attacker is protected by distance and in some cases, anonymity. However, law makers are working toward understanding this form of bullying and incorporating legislation that addresses it.

The Many Faces of Cyberbullying

According to Utah Code 53A-11a-102, cyberbullying is defined as “using the Internet, a cell phone, or another device to send or post text, video, or an image with the intent or knowledge, or with reckless disregard, that the text, video, or image will hurt, embarrass, or threaten an individual, regardless of whether the individual directed, consented to, or acquiesced in the conduct, or voluntarily accessed the electronic communication.”

Cyberbullying may include any of the following activities:

  • Physical threats, such as messages or emails involving threats to someone’s safety. An email threatening to beat someone up after school would qualify.
  • Altering digital images of someone’s appearance or the setting he/she is in to make them appear in a compromising or embarrassing situation.
  • Verbal abuse, such as sending hostile, inflammatory, or libelous messages to someone.
  • Identity theft/impersonation, including stealing someone’s password and/or hacking their online accounts.
  • “Happy-Slapping”: recording someone being harassed or physically abused and then posting the video online.

Most experts say early intervention is the key when it comes to cyberbullying. Parents are encouraged to have conversations with their children, either if they suspect their child is an attacker or a victim. Asking children why they think people participate in cyberbullying, if they know what their school policy is, if they have ever wanted to send or been the victim of a mean message, or how they would react to such things are all examples of questions that can hopefully prevent future problems in the case of potential bullies and remedy situations if a parent suspects their child has been bullied.

Cyberbullying Repercussions

In most cases, cyberbullying is handled through school policies which the schools have been directed to create by the Utah government. Usually cyberbullying is grounds for suspension or expulsion from school. However, in some cases, it can also be grounds for civil lawsuits, such as a lawsuit for defamation of character, when someone makes false statements about another resulting is mental suffering or damage to reputation.

In some cases, it can be a legally punishable offense. Harassment when committed by an adult is considered a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

While bullying isn’t anything new, cyberbullying is still a relatively young issue when it comes to addressing it from a parental, school, or government position. Many questions still remain. Laws and policies are still changing to try to address this topic. If your child has been accused of cyberbullying, contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney who can provide you with legal advice in the best interest of your child.

Suspected Cyberbullying at Utah High School

There are reports of suspected cyberbullying at a Utah high school, this time using the social media network Instagram.

Photo: Geoffrey Fairchild

What’s Going on?

Some Timpview High School girls are the alleged targets of the cyberbullying this time. Before Instagram officials were notified and the list was taken down, it was reported that there were pictures of several female students and offensive comments made about the girls. Local police as well as the school district are making investigations into the alleged cyberbullying.

Utah law prohibits bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, hazing, sexual battery and sexual exposure in the following school-related situations:

• on school property
• at a school related or sponsored event
• on a school bus
• at a school bus stop
• while a school employee or student is traveling to or from the above locations

State law also notes that hazing and cyberbullying are prohibited at any time or any location. There is another law that requires a school to notify a parent if his child threatens to commit suicide or is otherwise involved in cyberbullying, harassment, etc.

An Attorney Can Help

Kids, like adults, are not immune from making mistakes. Youth that are bullied or are bullies both are in need of help; it’s an unfortunate situation for anyone involved that can bring about civil and/or criminal penalties.

If your child is facing legal difficulties due to cyberbullying or any other problem, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced Utah juvenile defense attorney. Having the assistance of an attorney can help your child in multiple ways. Make the right move and call a Utah juvenile defense attorney today.