Can Social Media Result in Criminal Charges?
Social media platforms play an integral part in modern-day communication and interaction. While they provide numerous benefits, they can also be misused, leading to potential criminal liability for offenders—even those without intent or knowledge of the offense.
It’s crucial for all Californians to stay up-to-date with current regulations and state laws that govern online activity and internet use, especially when it comes to social media. Keep reading to learn what social media crimes entail and how to avoid the life-altering criminal penalties that can apply if convicted.
Understanding Internet Crimes in California
Under California law, internet crimes (also known as cybercrime) entail any use of the internet to commit a crime. This is a broad term that encompasses a variety of offenses involving fraudulent or illicit activity on the internet. Common examples include:
A key statute pertaining to internet crimes is California Penal Code § 502, also known as the “Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act.” This act makes it a crime to knowingly access a computer, computer system, or network without permission with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or commit a crime.
This includes actions like unauthorized computer access (hacking) and adding, altering, damaging, deleting, or destroying any data, computer software, or computer programs without permission. Such acts are usually prosecuted as felonies in California, leading to substantial jail or prison sentences if convicted. If the computer crime is deemed a misdemeanor, such as some cases of computer hacking and other minor offenses, the defendant can face up to a year in jail.
Keep in mind that the specific classification and penalties depend on the nature and severity of the internet crime committed. Regardless of the severity of the offense, it’s imperative to consult with a trusted criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to avoid a life-altering conviction.
3 Social Media Crimes That Can Lead to Arrest in CA
Given that 90% of Americans actively use social media in 2023, it should come as no surprise that online platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and the like aren’t exempt from illegal online activity.
California laws apply to social media in the same way as other online activities. Activities such as harassment, fraud, identity theft, defamation, and illegal distribution of copyrighted materials can be committed through social media platforms, and they may be subject to prosecution under applicable laws.
Consider the following 3 social media crimes that can lead to arrest in California:
#1. Cyberbullying (Indirect Cyber Harassment)
Cyberbullying entails the use of social media to harass, threaten, or intimidate individuals. This is a serious crime, particularly if the offense involves minors (under 18 years). While there are no specific laws that address cyberbullying, such acts are prohibited under California Penal Code § 653.2.
This section of the code states that individuals who intentionally place another person or their immediate family in reasonable fear by means of electronic communication can face criminal penalties, including fines, probation, or even imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense. This applies to cyberbullying and includes related offenses, including indirect cyber or electronic harassment.
Generally, cyberbullying and other indirect offenses are misdemeanors punishable by:
- Up to 1 year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
California’s cyberstalking laws are included under Penal Code § 646.9, which defines cyberstalking as harassing or threatening another (to the point where they reasonably fear for their safety or their loved ones’ safety) through electronic communications. This includes any online correspondence, such as emails, texts, direct messages, video messages, and faxes, among others.
Cyberstalking is a “wobbler offense” in California, meaning that it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on the severity of the offense and the corresponding circumstances. If convicted, the criminal penalties can be broken down as follows:
- Misdemeanor offenses are punishable by up to 1 year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
- Felony offenses are punishable by up to 5 years in prison, up to $1,000 in fines, and potential registration as a sex offender (such as if the offense involves a minor).
#3. Revenge Porn
Under Penal Code § 647(j), revenge porn is illegal in California. This offense is best defined as publishing sexually explicit content online, such as videos and images, of another person without their consent and causing significant emotional distress.
The code states that a person “who intentionally distributes the image of the intimate body part or parts of another identifiable person, under circumstances in which the persons agree or understand that the image shall remain private" is subject to criminal penalties. This offense is usually a misdemeanor punishable by:
- Up to 6 months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
Aggressive Representation for the Accused in Oakland
The Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed has successfully handled thousands of cases in the East Bay Area. Whether you require an aggressive defense for domestic violence allegations or defending against an unlawful search and seizure by police, Attorney Ahmed has the specialized knowledge, skillset, and determination to fight for justice on your behalf. If you’re facing criminal charges, don’t jeopardize your future by forgoing your right to representation. Reach out to our firm today to learn how we can collaborate with you to restore your freedom.
Accused of committing a cybercrime? Our Oakland lawyer can aggressively defend your rights. Call (510) 907-6600 to request a free consultation.