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Florida Appellate Court Issues Opinion on Cyberstalking as Domestic Violence

Cyberstalking is becoming an increasingly prevalent form of domestic violence. Although the internet allows us to conduct a great deal of our daily basis in an efficient and convenient manner, it also exposes us to unwanted contact from a variety of individuals who mean to do us harm. Recently, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s denial of a protective order application in which a wife claimed that her estranged husband had posted Facebook messages that constituted cyberstalking under Florida law.

Although the couple had become estranged, the pair remained “friends” on Facebook. As a result, each spouse could see social media posts and content that the other spouse posted on his or her Facebook page.

Two messages on the husband’s Facebook page caused the wife a great deal of concern. The first post involved a private message that the wife had with a third party, and the second post included song lyrics from the 1985 pop hit Secret Lovers. The post including the song lyrics caused the wife's concern because she had recently listened to the song on her home computer, leading her to believe that her estranged husband was spying on her in some virtual capacity.

Shortly after seeing these posts, the wife filed an order seeking a domestic violence protection order based on her estranged husband’s alleged cyberstalking. According to Florida law, cyberstalking requires proof that the stalker engaged “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 reviewing court denied the wife’s application for a protective order on the basis that the husband’s posts did not constitute a communication that was specifically directed at her pursuant to Florida’s cyberstalking law. Neither of the husband’s posts included anything that referenced the wife “in any obvious way.” Unlike an email, which has a specific recipient, a Facebook post is available to the general public and is not automatically directed at a specific individual. If the husband had “tagged” his estranged wife in his posts, however, the court may have reached a different conclusion.

In support of her application, the wife stated that a keystroke logging program was found on her computer hard drive. The reviewing court noted, however, that the wife lacked any evidence suggesting the husband was responsible for placing the program on the wife’s computer. Even assuming that the husband was behind the keystroke logging program, the court concluded that the program alone would not fall within Florida’s cyberstalking law, which requires words, images, or language that is directed at the victim. Accordingly, merely gaining non-consensual access to the victim’s social media networks or email accounts does not rise to the level of cyberstalking.

If you or someone you know has been accused of engaging in cyberstalking, the domestic violence attorneys at The Hoffman Firm can help. We have provided sound legal advice to many individuals facing criminal charges throughout Florida and are prepared to help you aggressively assert your rights. Facing criminal charges can be extremely stressful and difficult for the accused. It is important to consult an attorney to understand your rights and options.

Call us now at (305) 928-1669 or contact us online to set up a free, no-obligation consultation.

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