Today, more than ever, the online world offers a multitude of ways to follow the actions of other people. The ability to be profoundly involved in another person’s life, against their will, without actually being near them is why states like Florida have laws against cyberstalking. An estranged husband’s alleged online activity, even though it raised the possibility that he hacked into his wife’s computer and Facebook account, did not meet the law’s definition of cyberstalking because he did not post anything specifically directed at the wife, the 2d District Court of Appeal recently ruled.
The backdrop to this case involved an estranged married couple, Sammie and Maureen H. Although the pair was estranged, they remained Facebook friends. As a result of this connection, the wife could see the husband’s posts on the social media site, including two disquieting ones. One was a private Facebook message conversation the wife had with a third party, and the other was the lyrics to the song “Secret Lovers,” a 1985 pop hit by the R&B group Atlantic Starr. The wife had recently been listening to the Atlantic Starr song on her home computer so, in her view, the husband could only have know about her music playlist and her private Facebook conversations by hacking into her computer and virtually spying on her. She testified that a keystroke logging mechanism was found on her computer, but she had no proof that the husband did it.
Armed with this information, the wife filed for an order of protection from domestic violence. One variety of domestic violence that may entitle a victim to obtain an injunction of protection is cyberstalking. Florida statutory law has a very specific definition of what constitutes cyberstalking, stating that stalker must “engage in a course of conduct to communicate… words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person.”
The wife was not entitled to an injunction of protection because the husband’s Facebook activities did not amount to cyberstalking. Cyberstalking must involve communication “directed at a specific person.” Nothing the husband posted on Facebook was specifically directed at the wife, and the husband did not “tag” the wife on either post. Neither the song lyrics nor the private conversation text contained anything that specifically referenced the wife “in any obvious way.”
It is notable that emails are treated differently from Facebook posts. Since emails have specific recipients, the court considered those to be “directed at a specific person,” namely, the recipient. Public Facebook posts are published to all of the user’s Facebook friends, and therefore they lack that element of specific targeting.
The court also pointed out that, even if the husband did hack the wife’s computer, this did not constitute cyberstalking. Cyberstalking must involve words, images, or language directed to the victim by the stalker. Hijacking someone’s email, social media, or other online account in order to gain access and spy on them, even if proven, does not meet that definition.
Cases of domestic violence through cyberstalking are becoming more and more complicated as online tools available to cyberstalkers improve every day. If you believe you are suffering domestic violence through cyberstalking, it is important to understand your options. For help with your questions or concerns, consult the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our diligent, experienced lawyers can help you understand what choices the law gives to you to ensure your protection.
Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule a confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Appeals Court Decision Clarifies When Victims Can Seek Protective Injunctions, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 20, 2014
‘Better Safe than Sorry’ Not a Sufficient Basis for Granting an Order of Protection, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 26, 2014