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What is Cyber Harassment?

By R. Stamm
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cyber harassment and cyber stalking are often used synonymously to describe the actions of people who relentlessly pursue others online with the intention of frightening or embarrassing the victim. Sometimes a harasser intends to teach the victim a lesson or solicit information from him or her, and stalkers generally want revenge or attention. Laws against this behavior vary depending on the country, and victims should report their case to local authorities. To prevent crimes from occurring, it is important for everyone to protect their identity while on the Internet.

There is no universal legal definition of cyber harassment, but it typically is defined as repeated, unsolicited, threatening behavior by a person or group using mobile or Internet technology with the intent to bother, terrify, intimidate, humiliate, threaten, harass or stalk someone else. The harassment can take place in any electronic environment where communication with others is possible, such as on social networking sites, on message boards, in chat rooms or through email. Just posting a general opinion on a discussion board or in a forum is not considered harassment.

A stalker or harasser often will post comments to the victim that are intended to cause distress and will try to incite others to do the same. He or she might break into the victim’s accounts and send numerous obscene or hurtful emails and instant messages to the victim’s significant other, family, friends, coworkers and boss. A harasser might even hack into the victim’s computer and take over his or her accounts, change passwords or sign up the victim for things such as pornographic websites and spam. The person might set up websites using digitally manipulated, sexual images of the victim or send those images to amateur pornographic websites.

Laws protecting citizens from cyber harassment can vary from place to place and country to country. Western European countries have explicit laws providing their citizens with protection from cyber harasser or stalkers, but as of 2010, some Asian countries had not yet enacted laws against this crime. In the United States, many states have laws that provide some protection. There are no U.S. federal laws that directly address this issue, but there is some legislation that addresses stalking in general and may cover some aspects of the behavior. There are also laws that protect children age 16 or younger from electronic sexual offenses.

People who feel they have been victimized should begin to document and collect all harassing messages, postings and other activities. If there is any indication that a perpetrator knows where the victim lives or works or how to find him or her offline, the victim should contact the local authorities immediately. In some instances, the authorities can track the harasser through an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and issue a restraining order against the individual. Victims who cannot file criminal charges against an offender might attempt to file a civil suit, have accounts revoked and have damaging websites shut down.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon977823 — On Nov 13, 2014

What can be done about harassment from an ISP in the Bahamas, but the person posting is known to be in the United States?

By anon951622 — On May 16, 2014

I have been getting threatening emails. The person has been asked to stop but keeps continuing. The person has threatened to bury me alive. Help. What should I do?

By anon357258 — On Dec 02, 2013

I'm getting messages on Twitter from somebody who appears to be a friend of my (as of the last few days) ex. They were certainly somebody keen to cause trouble between us, and there are several likely candidates for that amongst people she knows.

Several of the false profiles they've created have followed people to seem legitimate, and all of those additions suggest one person in particular, who she remains close to. Unfortunately, she's been, I suspect, telling me a few untruths about her behavior online in the last few days/weeks and has now blocked me childishly, so I don't know what information she's now passing on in order to work out who has what ammunition that they're using against me. I'm in the UK and to complicate matters, they seem to be in the US.

At a really terrible time in my life, their constant annoyance (which isn't threatening in itself) is pushing me towards despair. Just adding my voice to the others here. I know it might seem slight, but I've ended up losing out while, I suspect, the perpetrator is lapping up attention from somebody they made vulnerable now. Sad what anonymous communication allows.

By anon329982 — On Apr 13, 2013

"Posting a general opinion on a discussion board or in a forum is not considered cyber harassment."

You say a general opinion. What if it there are more than 5 to 10 or more on a gossip site? Is that harassment?

By anon329141 — On Apr 08, 2013

I have read all of the above postings. My husband and I are currently experiencing harassing emails, not knowing who they are from and also through facebook someone gained access to our home phone and changed our cable company to another phone company. They also hacked into one of our cellphones.

Unbelievable. We were also both followed to a grocery store not on one occasion, but numerous times. We know we haven't done anything illegal, so we're just waiting. I told my husband I'm going to go to the police station if the harassment continues. We have both deactivated our facebook accounts for right now also, and not giving out our emails so freely anymore.

By anon321136 — On Feb 21, 2013

I've been harassed on twitter for years. Not only me, but also a lot of my online friends by a merciless girl from Belgium who steals identities and uses them as hers. She pits people against each other. She tweets offensive content and plays with people's compassion.

She made up the story of being a rape victim, of being beaten almost to death just to gain sympathy. She even faked her online death. She is still on twitter. I've sent several reports to suspend her but each one failed.

I tried to contact Belgian attorneys, but it seemed nobody cared. Can you imagine the cruelty of someone posting a "goodbye letter" online, and watch people mourn after a death which never happened?

She was even impudent enough to say (disguised as her cousin) that her organs were donated after death just so people would see her as a "higher saint". It's sick. I wish I could stop her from hurting people.

By anana — On Dec 29, 2012

Someone apparently hacked/hijacked (don't know correct term here) either my facebook account or the email connected to it and sent someone a message/email pretending to be me.

From what I understand, it contained horrible things about someone else the receiver of the message/email had recently became involved with.

I knew the person the message was about but not the person it was sent to. I think I know who actually did the sending but of course can't be sure.

I only know this because I was accused of it through a text by the person the message/email was about.

I don't know what the message said and I'm concerned not only because of what might have been in the message/email that I didn't write but what else is the person who hijacked my account still doing? Anything?

As a result, I closed down my Facebook account (it's been about a year) and also deactivated the email address associated with it.

I am wondering if there is anything I can do about this and clear my name for starters? One question I've also had about this ordeal is, if or when someone hijacks/hacks an account of any sort, are they able to make it look like it came from the ISP account they broke into?

This has caused me much distress wondering if this person continues to send stuff or anything like that in my name, like creating false accounts in my name, etc.

By anon296825 — On Oct 13, 2012

I had suffered cyberbullying. I was on a site to meet people who shared certain interests with me, only to find myself a victim of such abuse.

They made up lies about me, none of which are true at all, and banning me from places I have never been to at all. I should have kept my interests to myself and shared them with appropriate partners. They never met me nor do they know me. I have no one to protect me and I tried filing a lawsuit, but no one was willing to take the case.

The site is a BDSM community website. Yes, I'm into BDSM, but I'm beginning to think E.L. James was right: BDSM is an excuse for those with severe mental and emotional issues who chose to be "kinky" to cover up their psychological screw-ups.

This site must be shut down. It is no longer a safe place to be. These people caused me to suffer from chronic depression and I am seriously considering suicide. I am only 23, but I have been a victim since I joined at age 18. And before that, I was a victim on another site from age 13 to 19. I want this to end. Help me.

By anon293959 — On Sep 28, 2012

I have a sister who was diagnosed with a mental disorder. Three years ago I blocked her on facebook after a fight. Since then, she has been writing stuff on her page about me that is not true. The lies she writes about me are horrendous and extremely disturbing.

She has emailed my friends and my husband's family saying disturbing things about me. I have asked her to stop. Her son is also helping her and he has written to me saying that everyone knows I am a drug addict alcoholic and a dealer. The things they say about me are not true and are extreme, like saying I am a baby killer.

I went to the police and they said there is nothing I can do, even though I was told to put a gun to my mouth and pull the trigger. That was because, after three years, I called them out on their lies because I am alone in this with no support from the police and cannot get any legal help.

I have almost 200 pages of emails and posts on facebook that are about me and not true. No one protects people like me from these people.

By Moldova — On Feb 08, 2011

Latte31- I remember that case it was so sad. This is why there should be stricter cyber bullying laws on the books because cyber bullying is a very real form of harassment that can no longer be ignored.

Harassment laws need to be in place that expand the definition of harassment to include cyber bullying as well. This is a very real threat to young people who do not yet have the perspective necessary to brush these comments off because they are so very young.

To them they feel that the present will last forever because they have not lived long enough to know that their future will change.

This is why we really need to protect these kids and charge those accused of cyber bullying with a felony which will really impact their life. I bet if the punishment were more severe people would think twice about doing this.

By latte31 — On Feb 05, 2011

BrickBack-I agree with you, but the worst of all of the cyber harassment cases has to be the Megan Meier case.

This thirteen year old girl was tricked by her former friend’s mother named Lori Drew who pretended to be a boy named Josh who was interested in her.

Drew did this to see what Megan would say about her daughter. After she got the information that she wanted Drew posing as “Josh” ended the relationship and Megan killed herself that night.

Not only was this a cruel joke but to make matters worse Megan suffered from depression which made her even more vulnerable to suicide.

Lori Drew was charged with a misdemeanor for computer fraud which yielded only 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

However, the ruling was reversed on appeal citing that there were no laws on the books to address this crime so Drew walked free.

This is a tragedy on so many levels because someone like this should never get away with cyber bullying like that. This woman robbed her of her life that she will never get back.

By BrickBack — On Feb 02, 2011

Sunshine31 -I don’t understand why there are not stricter laws in place because I believe that the bullying harassment cases are worse on the internet than they are in person.

The reason is simple. People can hide behind their computer and say all sorts of things but when they are face to face with their victim it is a different situation.

It is really a more cowardly way to harass someone. There are many cyber harassment cases that ended tragically.

The Tyler Clement case regarding the Rutgers freshman that killed himself over the humiliation that he experienced when two of his supposed friends broadcasted his sexual encounters on the internet.

This is really terrible that people think something like this could ever be funny.

By sunshine31 — On Jan 31, 2011

Anon125965- That is a good question, but I am not sure of the answer. I just wanted to say that I am surprised that there are no federal laws against bullying and harassment on the internet.

As a matter of fact the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects services like Facebook and MySpace from litigation.

This is why most of these social networking sites don’t do more to prevent cyber bullying. While there are laws that exist to protect minors 16 and under the majority of the cases involve young women between the ages of 18 and 24.

The cyber harassment statistics show that the percentage of young women that are harassed in this manner is over 60% and only 10% of victims tell their parents which is really disturbing.

By anon125965 — On Nov 11, 2010

What happens if an adult reposts something on facebook that was an original post by a minor who lied about their age (13 saying they were 18) on a public page? the repost was on a private page.

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