Bill Centered Around Social Media Threats Goes into Effect

October 13, 2021 Criminal Defense, Social Media

On October 1st, HB 921, centered around electronic crimes, went into effect. Ultimately, the bill expands Florida’s existing law that states threats posted online must be directly messaged in order for the threat to carry legal consequences. Now, threats made indirectly through social media posts or stories can be criminally sanctioned.

Specifically, the bill amends Section 784.048 of the Florida Statutes and provides additional language to define cyberstalking as directly or indirectly communicating through digital means in a manner that is directed at or pertains to a specific person. The amended statute now defines the term “cyberstalk” as:

  1. To engage in a course of conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, directly or indirectly, words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at or pertaining to a specific person; or
  2. To access, or attempt to access, the online accounts or Internet-connected home electronic systems of another person without that person’s permission, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose.

Therefore, communication is expanded to include social media posts or stories that are directed at someone, even if you do not message that person individually.

In addition, the bill amends Section 836.10 of the Florida Statutes to redefine what constitutes an electronic record. Now, an electronic record includes any record created, modified, archived, received, or distributed electronically which contains any combination of text, graphics, video, audio, or pictorial represented in digital form, but does not include a telephone call. Furthermore, the amended bill makes it a crime to send, post, transmit, or procure the sending, posting, or transmission of a writing, record, or electronic record in any way it may be viewed by another person when such writing or record includes:

  1. a threat to kill or do bodily harm to another person; or
  2. a threat to conduct a mass shooting or act of terrorism.

Before, if an individual was to post a threat on their Snapchat story or Instagram story, that threat was not considered a criminal act because they did not directly send that threat to an individual. This new language broadens the original language of the statute altogether and removes the requirement that such threats be directed at a specific person.

Before its passage, bill sponsor Representative John Snyder explained that rapidly changing technology requires that Florida’s criminal statutes be updated, stating:

 “There is significant ambiguity when it comes to the posting of threats via Twitter or other open forum platforms. CS/HB 941 closes that loophole and makes certain that threatening language that is posted, transmitted or sent is, in fact, eligible for prosecution.”

However, critics of the bill believe it created a slippery slope given the casual nature of electronic communication. Senator Perry Thurston, who opposed the bill, asked, “[i]f I simply say, ‘I’m going to punch the next person I see wearing a mask’. Does that put me in defiance of the bill?”

The bill also increases the penalty for violating the statute to a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are charged with violating Florida’s newly amended laws regarding social media threats, it is imperative you retain a knowledgeable and experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorney. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm are incredibly informed on electronic criminal law in Florida and will zealously advocate on your behalf. Call us today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your case during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

This article was written by Sarah Kamide

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