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Online Threats Are Being Taken More Seriously By The Day

The Internet has gone from the latest fad to an indispensable part of our lives in record time. Social media is one of the primary forms of communication in America, and there are more people than ever before who can work from home or start their own businesses specifically because the Internet gives them access to the tools they need.

Everything isn’t sunshine and progress, though. The Internet has a dark side, where the relative anonymity afforded by the net allows people to say things that would get them arrested if they’d done it offline. Campaigns of harassment are the norm in many spheres, and for years the common wisdom has been to either ignore it, or to shut the computer off. That’s no longer an option, though, and the justice system is slowly starting to take things that people say online much more seriously than they have in the past.

The Anatomy of Online Threats

Online threats are just a digital version of offline threats; if someone makes specific statements that the recipient has a reasonable belief will be carried out, and which puts that person in fear for his or her life, then that series of characters on a screen can be cause to get the police involved.

Online Threats are Serious

If it would be illegal to say to someone face-to-face, then it’s illegal to say online as well.

The key elements here are that the threat has to be believable, and that a reasonable person would see it as a legitimate threat to his or her possible well-being. So, for example, an anonymous someone typing in the phrase, “be quiet or I will hurt you,” on a gaming forum isn’t specific enough. However, someone saying, “If you don’t be quiet I’m going to come to your house at 447 Elm Lane and hurt you,” does qualify. The individual has demonstrated that he knows where the person lives, and that he has made a very specific, violent threat. Whether the person making the threat has any intention of following through on it is irrelevant; the threat was made, and making threats like that is against the law.

If it would be illegal to say to someone face-to-face, then it’s illegal to say online as well.

The Slow Adaptation to Online Threats

While law enforcement has begun to take online threats more seriously over the past several years, they haven’t always been on the ball according to Last Week Tonight. Perfect examples include the campaigns of harassment that women like Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu have had to endure (including death threats, rape threats, and bomb threats) because they’re women who are involved in the video game industry. When they first turned to the authorities regarding literally thousands of threats, many of which included their addresses and specific, personal information, many law enforcement personnel shrugged and said there was nothing they could do. The connection between online activity (no matter how vile or personal) simply didn’t register as something in the real world. They were separate, and pushed into a category of things that were less important because they were digital.

There are signs those attitudes are changing, though, particularly regarding violent threats. On October 5, 2015 a UCA student was taken into custody because of veiled threats made on social media. On September 24, 2015 a woman was investigated for making threats against police officers online. More and more often people are being held accountable for what they say online. The more serious the language they use is, the harder they’ll find it to say “I was just joking.”

It’s important to remember that the online world, and what we think of as the real world, are no longer separate things. They’re one and the same, and if you make criminal threats online, you could find very real police showing up at your door. For more information on the latest happenings in the digital world, simply contact us today!