California has specific laws that criminalize stalking or harassment of another person or their family. However, with the growing pervasiveness of the digital world, much of that stalking has moved online, which has presented new challenges for law enforcement worldwide. Online stalking, or cyberstalking, is illegal in California under Penal Code 646.9. It is one of the ways a stalking or harassment charge can be applied to an accused individual.
Celebrities often speak of the hateful messages they receive online, and many argue that messages can be much more negative on social media platforms due to a perceived sense of anonymity. This perception, unfortunately, can be taken too far and turned into stalking or harassment. The willful harassment of an individual or their family through some form of electronic means includes online platforms (a very wide-open net), videos, phones, texts, emails, and other electronic communication means. The prosecution must prove that the accused willfully harassed the victim, that the harassment posed a credible threat to either the victim or the victim’s family, the victim and/or family felt in fear of their safety, and the harassment occurred through the aforementioned communication means.
If someone is found guilty of cyberstalking, they face a wobbler offense. Some online harassment cases may end up with a felony or misdemeanor conviction. In the case of a misdemeanor, the convicted individual faces up to a year in county jail and may have to pay certain fines. However, a felony conviction has even steeper penalties. Based on the case and the individual’s criminal history, a felony can require up to five years in state prison and paying a fine. With cyberstalking, based on the nature of the harassment, other charges could also be applied by the prosecution.