Harassment vs. Netiquette – They texted me wrong, now arrest them!

Angry Mobile User

By: Scott Hall
   The Electronic age is upon us, with it comes the ability to communicate in real time through instant messages.  The instant message (IM) software can be acquired with a simple search on the internet, which will yield results that may include several popular applications, such as icq.com or yahoo.com and google.com.  Some web sites such as Face Book or Twitter have these built in as a feature of the site’s community.  In either case, this software makes conversations instant so we as computer users do not have to wait for the message to come in our e-mail box and then type an answer and then resend it and so on.  With the evolution of technology making our lives easier and more accessible, we must learn to not forget the standards of internet usage that govern our own lives in front of a computer.

     Those standards known as netiquette, refers to a general group of rules for what should be acceptable behavior while using the internet.  When a user steps outside the preferred rules, is it criminal behavior?  Is there an “Internet Law” that can be applied to prosecute?  When performing my research into Internet Law, or in some cases known as cyber law, (www.cyber.law.com ) was discovered, the site contains various links to the variety of crimes associated with computer usage.  The ones more familiar to most are cyber bullying, cyber stalking, hacking, virus’s and spam email, others that may not be as familiar such as Cyber Terrorism, Cyber Warfare and phishing scams along with a host of others.  Thinking in terms of our netiquette approach, lots of these sub titled search offers do not fit our quest for knowledge.  One section that was mentioned, harassment drew attention.  Harassment by definition (www.dictionary.com ), in the verb sense, simply means to persistently pester, torment, persecute and bother continually.  
      If we were to receive an email from some unknown person, that came from the other side of the world and that email contained wording that was of a threatening nature, some of us may mark it as a “spam” email and totally disregard it as nothing important.  When we are at our work desks, chatting with our co-workers, verbally, due to a set of standards we mostly refrain from telling our co worker, “I am going to punch your lights out” or some other derogatory comment.  If this behavior repeated itself daily, we would certainly at some point receive a disciplinary action for harassing a co-worker and possibly be relieved of our job.  In our electronic lives, the same does apply and even if the person harassing you is across the country there are acceptable ranges for behavior.  For instance, Cyber-Bullying is an act of harassment and abuse that takes place within a digital setting.  Our digital setting is Face Book; the harassment could be one person continually posting comments on the other person’s home page, or on their own page.  The easy fix would be to “un-friend” them, the harder fix is getting the perpetrator to halt the perceived abusive postings and spreading their influence to their friends about the person in question.  Behavior such as this does occur, as in the Asher Brown case (September 2010), a 13 year old boy suffered such a tragedy (www.lgbhatecrimes.org ). 
     Harassing behavior is not limited to just threats of physical or emotional harm; it can also include deviant sexual misconduct.  This is not to say that when you find out your love interest is conversing with someone else in a mature manner is not socially unacceptable, but unless it is not consensual between them a crime is not being committed.   If that same love interest came to you and said, “this person continues to send me messages that are not appropriate, I have blocked them and done all I can but somehow they keep sending them.” In this situation, a crime of sexual harassment through electronic media can apply, specifically if the victim petitions and calls for the halt of such behavior.  In an online article (www.features.techworld.com/ , Praveen, Radhika, 2006 June) it suggests that something as subtle as an e-mail containing illegal or illicit materials can quickly become a world-wide event.  The article mentions a case where an email originated from within an office and then reaches 20,000 people and probably more by now as this article was posted in 2006.  The article also mentions sexual harassment, deviance and references a few insights from persons who monitor all our emails.  Cringing yet, if not let me repeat this, persons who monitor all our emails. 
     The article mentions that in 2005-2006 the Equal Opportunities Commission stated that complaints filed to them of a sexual harassing nature through electronic media, was among the top 5 complaints received.  All employers look to their employees to productively use their time while at work, if this type of behavior was occurring then, with all the extra’s we have at our fingertips, how much faster or easier it is to do currently with the addition of mobile communications and tweeting or instant messaging to each other through those same outlets.  A more recent item that hints at some of this style of behavior is former congressman, Anthony Weiner in June of 2011.  In this case, congressman Weiner “tweeted” in appropriate images of himself to different women and the subsequent action called for his resignation.  This type of behavior is not limited to white collar regions, as within that same year an Amish person was arrested for texting and attempting to arrange sexual contact with a minor according to a report filed on CNN  online (www.cnn.com ) .
     Along with netiquette standards in our electronic worlds, moral and socially acceptable standards do apply and some can be considered criminal.  While harassment is only one form of cyber crime, many others exist and occur every day around the world.  Law enforcement must continually monitor and help to control crimes that affect our communities, even if the perpetrators are on the other side of the globe.  Platforms such as instant messaging, email and social networks are readily available to anyone whom qualifies to sign up for that service. Even though we consider those platforms private, that privacy is subject to others behavior standards and perceptions.  Due to the anonyminity of the internet and the range of non-controlled environments, almost anyone who is computer savvy can sign up for these platforms and express themselves in a civil or deviant manner.  When that deviant behavior occurs the perpetrator can be held responsible and can be punished by both local laws and cyber laws. “Big Brother” does have the right to monitor us, even in our electronic worlds, and this should help to deter illicit behavior however tempting or daunting it may be, careful what you text.
     Reference and further reading:
7)    http://www.dtcc.edu/cs/rfc1855.html (netiquette rules)

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