In a recent survey, 28% of Americans admitted they had directed malicious online activity at someone they didn't know. In many cases, such activity is protected by the First Amendment. But in other cases, such activity can subject you to a lawsuit or a criminal prosecution.
Malicious online activity can take various forms in Nevada, including:
- Cyber harassment,
- Cyberstalking, or
- Making terrorist threats.
The good news is that before you can be subjected to criminal penalties for electronic communications or internet comments, there must be evidence that you intended to cause harm to your alleged victim.
Internet “trolling” in Nevada
You “troll” when you post inflammatory or inappropriate messages or comments online for the purpose of upsetting other users and provoking a response.
Trolling is not, in and of itself, against the law. However, if the information you post is false or private, the person you post about might be able to sue you for a violation of Nevada's defamation or invasion of privacy laws.
And when trolling crosses the line into cyberbullying or cyberstalking – that is, when the comments or communications contain personal information or threats, or are obscene or harassing -- there are several Nevada criminal laws they might violate.
Nevada law also protects public school students from online, text and email harassment and cyberbullying. In addition to any applicable civil or criminal consequences, students who engage in such behavior can be disciplined by school authorities.
Nevada's Cyber Stalking Law – NRS 200.575
Cyberstalking is prohibited under Nevada's law against stalking, NRS 200.575. A person commits cyberstalking when he or she:
- Engages in stalking by means of an Internet or network site, electronic mail, text messaging or any other similar means of communication, and
- Such behavior is for the purpose of publishing, displaying or distributing information in a manner that substantially increases the risk of harm or violence to the victim.
“Stalking” occurs when, without lawful authority, someone willfully or maliciously engages in a course of conduct that:
- Would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, harassed or fearful for the immediate safety of a family or household member, and
- Actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, harassed or fearful for the immediate safety of a family or household member.
Cyberstalking is a Nevada Category C felony. Penalties can include up to 5 years in Nevada State Prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. In addition, people who reasonably believe they are being cyberstalked can petition a court for a Nevada restraining order. If granted, the restraining order will prohibit the alleged cyberstalker from having any contact or communication with the alleged victim.
Nevada's Cyber Harassment Law – NRS 200.571
The Nevada crime of harassment, NRS 200.571, is similar to the crime of stalking. Both consist of behavior that causes another person to reasonably fear harm to him- or herself or his or her family.
However, whereas cyberstalking usually involves trying to force contact with a victim, cyber harassment involves a direct threat of harm such as:
- Bodily injury,
- Property damage,
- Physical restraint or confinement,
- Sexual assault, or
- Anything else intended to substantially harm another person's physical or mental safety.
Like the crime of cyberstalking, harassment via electronic media is a Nevada Category C Felony. It can be punished in the same way as cyberstalking, with penalties that can include up to 5 years in Nevada state prison and/or as much as a $10,000 fine.
Terrorist Threats Via Texting, Emails or the Internet – NRS 202.448
In extreme circumstances, texts, emails or internet posts can be prosecuted under NRS 202.448, Nevada's law against making "terrorist threats."
A cyber terrorist threat occurs when someone uses an internet post or an email or text message to threaten substantial injury or destruction to the general population by means of sabotage or violence.
Making a terrorist threat in Nevada is a serious felony. Punishment can include as much as 2 - 20 years in Nevada State Prison and up to a $5,000 fine.
Cyber Bullying in Nevada Public Schools
NRS 388.121 and subsequent sections set forth procedures under which Nevada public schools are to provide a safe and respectful learning environment free of bullying and cyber-bullying.
“Cyber-bullying” is defined as bullying through the use of electronic communication. The term includes the use of electronic communication to transmit or distribute a sexual image of a minor.
“Bullying” includes communications that place a person in reasonable fear of physical harm or property damage and create an intimidating or hostile educational environment and are based upon actual or perceived characteristics such as race, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation or disabilities or associations with people with such actual or perceived characteristics
Acts that constitute cyberbullying range from name-calling to spreading false rumors to cyberstalking.
Nevada law has strict mandatory reporting requirements for teachers and other staff members who witness or are informed of cyberbullying. If these requirements are not complied with, a parent or guardian of a pupil may petition a court of competent jurisdiction for a writ of mandamus to compel the performance of any duty imposed on schools by Nevada's anti-cyberbullying laws.
What About My Constitutional Right of Free Speech?
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects your right to freedom of speech.
But this right is not absolute. The Supreme Court of the United States has carved out exceptions based on false statements, obscenity, child pornography and incitements to violence. Prohibitions on cyberbullying are seen by proponents as an extension of these rights. Opponents see them as an unreasonable prohibition of protected speech.
It can be a challenge for legislatures and courts has been to balance the desire to protect victims of cyberbullying with legitimate free speech concerns. It is particularly difficult since courts are not always in agreement about what is constitutionally permitted.
The United States Court has not yet weighed in on the issue, though it certainly seems possible in the future. In the meantime, if you or someone you know has been charged with a criminal violation of Nevada's cyber harassment, bullying or stalking laws, we welcome the opportunity to help. To schedule a free consultation with one of our caring Nevada criminal defense, personal injury, immigration, and family law attorneys, simply contact us via the form on this page. Or call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) to speak with a lawyer in the nearest office.