Criminal Threats and The Internet: Are Times Changing?

The Internet has changed the world in big, important ways. It's allowed people from different countries and cultures to exchange ideas in ways that would never before have been possible, and it's altered the way social movements, politics, and even big business works in the modern age. It has, in a real sense, revolutionized how current and future generations will view and interact with the world.

It's also had quite an impact on the criminal justice system, and on how we interpret certain laws. For example, thanks to recent online controversies there has been a lot of talk about how we should interpret criminal threat laws.

Criminal Threats and the Internet

The idea behind a criminal threat is a simple one. According to California Penal Code 422, if you threaten to cause harm to another person, and that other person has a reasonable belief that he or she should fear for their safety, then you have just made a criminal threat. It doesn't matter whether or not you take any action to fulfill that threat; the threat, and the belief that you will follow through on it, is enough to constitute the crime.

In the past it was relatively simple. If you got into an altercation with someone, and you made a threat, then your words could be used to charge you with a crime. What complicates things in today's day is that the Internet allows people to communicate in relative anonymity. Not only that, but this anonymity gives people the ability to deliver horrible threats with relative impunity. For an example you need look no further than what happened to video game developer Brianna Wu.

The Situation

Brianna Wu, video game designer and outspoken critic of the online Gamer Gate movement, was driven from her home by threats delivered from the Internet. Of the thousands of comments she received where anonymous people threatened to rape and murder her, several of them revealed personal information such as her home address. For their own safety she and her husband actually left their home for a time, lying low to be certain no one would use that information to harm them.

It seems ridiculous that people would get angry enough to deliver, much less carry out, threats of physical and sexual violence over video game opinions. That is the reality that many female game designers and developers are living with, according to Business Insider.

So What's Being Done?

The issue that many victims of this kind of treatment are running into is the attitude of, "It's just the Internet, it doesn't matter." However, the method by which a threat is delivered is what doesn't matter; criminal threats can be sent via email or social media just as easily as they can via the U.S. mail.

So what is the standard? What separates Internet trolling (behavior where you purposefully say offensive things or espouse inflammatory views to anger other users), and legitimate threats? The belief that the person making the threat can carry it out. So while someone leaving a random comment on a video game board saying they're going to kill you is a bit of a stretch, someone demonstrating that they know where you live, they have images of your home, and they say they're going to show up with a gun to murder you and your family shows that they very well could accomplish this threat.

The world is changing, and the law is adapting to fit it. If you or someone you love is caught up in a criminal threats case then contact us today in order to get the representation you need.

Our office is located in Murrieta, California, and we represent individuals from the surrounding cities of Temecula, Menifee, Wildomar, Lake Elsinore, Hemet, Perris, Corona, Riverside and Banning.

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