On June 21, 2015, the Internet news hit “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” highlighted the phenomenon of cyber harassment.
The program detailed the use of anonymous, and sometimes not-so anonymous, threats and campaigns of obscenities to both men and women on social media websites like Facebook.
Unfortunately, going to law enforcement is often not an option for victims of cyber harassment. Despite this increasingly prevalent issue on the Internet, state legislatures have not accounted for social media in writing their respective state harassment statutes.
However, this all changed for victims of cyber harassment in Colorado on April 24, 2015 when state legislators enacted House Bill 1072.
Also known as “Kiana Arellano’s Law,” the law expands Colorado’s existing harassment law to cover social media.
Now harassing another person over a website like Facebook or Instagram is a misdemeanor, punishable by fines up to $750 and six months in county jail. The bill went into effect July 1, 2015.
From repeat unsolicited genitalia pictures (“dick pics”) to threats to harm another person in private messages on sites like Twitter and Facebook, would-be cyber harassers and cyberbullies of all varieties are susceptible to judgments in a Court of law.
Although the bill effectively criminalizes cyber bullying, the law now protects both minors and adults alike.
States have typically drawn a line between “cyber bullying” and “harassment,” reserving the former categories for minors. But cyberbullying often continues past high school and middle school, well into college and even into adulthood.
A 2014 Pew Centre Research study indicates that forty percent of adult internet users have personally experienced some variety of online harassment. Of that number, some 8% have been physically threatened, and another 8% stalked.
Young adults, those 18-29, are the most likely age group to experience online harassment. Over half of these young internet users have been the target of online harassment and almost a quarter have received physical threats.
HB 1072 is one part of Colorado’s recognition that at some point, cyber bullying can transform into full-blown harassment, reminiscent more of calculated criminal behavior than playground skirmishes.
If you’re a resident of Colorado and believe you’re the victim of cyberbullying or another form of cyber harassment, the first thing to do is to contact your local law enforcement. Although Colorado’s statute is criminal in nature, a private civil attorney can also play a valuable role with helping to stop the online harassment and remedy any harms you may have experienced. A civil plaintiff’s attorney can help persons being harassed or bullied online to obtain a court order restraining the would-be harasser or cyberbully from further harassment.
While the new law does not explicitly create a private cause of action, a civil plaintiffs attorney also can bring potential negligence per se charges against the sender for their violation of the statutes.
The attorney may first send a letter to the party explaining their violations of law and demand they cease their actions, effectively placing them on notice of a violation of law. If the other party fails to comply with your demands and remedy their behavior, they can then be sued in a private civil suit for damages, including emotional distress, they caused you as a result of violating their duty of care not to harm you under Colorado Revised Statutes 18-9-111.
Criminalization of the behavior may also help satisfy the element of outrageous conduct required under the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Cyberbullying and other forms of cyber harassment may effectively rise to the level of conduct “so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” Coors Brewing Co. v. Floyd, 978 P.2d 663, 666 (Colo. 1999).
By Cassandra Kirsch, HopkinsWay PLLC. | © HopkinsWay PLLC 2015. All rights reserved.