Saturday, April 04, 2015

"Facebook thugging" case in Virginia sounds like more prosecutorial overreach

A woman living near Richmond, VA was arrested for “Facebook thugging” after someone complained about a selfie she took of herself holding a gun.  She says she got into an argument when she was mistaken for another woman, and posted the picture as a form of hyperbole, so people wouldn’t continue to mix her up.
But “harassment by computer” is a Class 1 Misdemeanor in Virginia.  The news story from a Richmond NBC affiliate is here. Police said that what she did you can’t do legally “in public” in the real world, so it is similar legally to disorderly conduct.  She could face a $2500 fine and a year in jail (which is unlikely).
I think the case is troubling because it is far from clear that what she posted was a “threat” or even harassment.  It may well be a Facebook TOS violation (especially as the company has narrowed its standards of acceptable conduct recently), but TOS violations, as EFF points out, aren’t necessarily crimes. 
CNN has the video here.
There are other troublesome cases, such as one heard before the Supreme Court Dec. 1, and the case of Justin Carter in Texas (Internet Safety blog, July 3, 2013).

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