Florida Gets Tough on Cyberstalking

As a practitioner of criminal and family law, I often get questions and pleas for help concerning people abusing social media and other forms of electronic communication to harass our clients. It may be a husband who is divorcing his wife, and the wife contacts the husband’s friends and family via social media to bad mouth him. It could be a young man who is wrongfully accused of rape, and now his former girlfriend is using social media to broadcast those false allegations and contacting his employer to get him fired. Or it could young woman seeking a restraining order against her abuser, and the abuser is posting her private information in retribution. This is not to mention the growing prevalence of the cyberbullying of children. In all these situations, there are no legal means to sop this abusive behavior. Florida law can only punish “cyberstalking” when it’s specifically directed at the victim. That all will chang when Florida’s amended cyberstalking law goes into effect. 

 Under current Florida law, cyberstalking is punishable only if the malicious electronic actions were specifically “directed” at the victim. Come October 1, 2021, however, cyberstalking will cover communication that “directly or indirectly” targets the victim. This includes communications that are not directed at the victim, but “pertain” to, or are about, the victim. No longer will an abuser be able to sidestep the law by writing a Facebook post on their page (or a friend or family’s page) with the false allegation that John Doe is a rapist, instead of directly posting on John Doe’s Facebook page that he’s a rapist. It’s a subtle difference in tactic, but causes the same harmful effect. John Doe is wrongfully and maliciously tarred and feathered in electronic format. No proof needed, and a life ruined or damaged. 

It’s important to note that this expanded definition of cyberstalking covers not only the crime of cyberstalking, but also when a victim seeks an injunction (restraining order) against cyberstalking. This is so crucial when the days of standing outside a window, or making crank calls, to stalk are going away, to be replaced with vicious social media attacks and other forms of electronic abuse. When it comes to reporting crimes of stalking or harassment to law enforcement, it’s not uncommon for an officer to respond that you need to go get an injunction instead. That it’s a civil matter, not criminal. They will not typically arrest someone on the allegation of cyberstalking, regardless of the evidence you might provide. However, if you do have an injunction in place, and your abuser violates that injunction, it’s much easier for law enforcement to step in and move forward with criminal prosecution. The amended cyberstalking will make it that much simpler to get relief from cyberstalking.