The website www.Formspring.me offers bullies another weapon to insult others — anonymously. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune today, this year old website has nearly 20 million users around the globe. Unlike text messages or postings on Facebook, this site allows users to post comments anonymously.
Illinois has taken steps to address cyber bullying. Effective January 1, 2010, a stronger cyber-stalking law went on the books in Illinois and should serve as a wake up call to everyone, especially teenagers and young adults who engage in cyber bullying by sending threatening messages via e-mail, text messages or other electronic means, such as postings on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Formspring.me.
The new Illinois law broadens the scope of the cyber-stalking law to include conduct that causes a reasonable person “to suffer other emotional distress,” which is defined in the new law as “significant mental suffering, anxiety or alarm.” The new law also subjects a perpetrator to criminal punishment for sending such electronic messages which cause a reasonable person to “fear for his or her safety or the safety of a third person.”
Cyber-stalking is a Class 4 felony (punishable by at least one year in prison and up to 3 years in prison), and a second or subsequent conviction is treated as a Class 3 felony (punishable by at least two years in prison and up to 5 years in prison). Fines of up to $25,000 may also be assessed along with restitution to victims.
The new provisions of the Illinois cyber-stalking law (720 ILCS 12-7.5) are underlined below:
§ 12-7.5. Cyberstalking
(a) A person commits cyberstalking when he or she engages in a course of conduct using electronic communication directed at a specific person, and he or she knows or should know that would cause a reasonable person to:
(1) fear for his or her safety or the safety of a third person; or
(2) suffer other emotional distress.
(a-3) A person commits cyberstalking when he or she, knowingly and without lawful justification, on at least 2 separate occasions, harasses another person through the use of electronic communication and:
(1) at any time transmits a threat of immediate or future bodily harm, sexual assault, confinement, or restraint and the threat is directed towards that person or a family member of that person; or
(2) places that person or a family member of that person in reasonable apprehension of immediate or future bodily harm, sexual assault, confinement, or restraint; or
(3) at any time knowingly solicits the commission of an act by any person which would be a violation of this Code directed towards that person or a family member of that person.
(a-5) A person commits cyberstalking when he or she, knowingly and without lawful justification, creates and maintains an Internet website or webpage which is accessible to one or more third parties for a period of at least 24 hours, and which contains statements harassing another person and:
(1) which communicates a threat of immediate or future bodily harm, sexual assault, confinement, or restraint, where the threat is directed towards that person or a family member of that person; or
(2) which places that person or a family member of that person in reasonable apprehension of immediate or future bodily harm, sexual assault, confinement, or restraint, or
(3) which knowingly solicits the commission of an act by any person which would be a violation of this Code directed towards that person or a family member of that person.
(b) Sentence. Cyberstalking is a Class 4 felony. A second or subsequent conviction for cyberstalking is a Class 3 felony.
(c) For purposes of this Section:
(1) “Course of conduct” means 2 or more acts, including but not limited to acts in which a defendant directly, indirectly, or through third parties, by any action, method, device, or means follows, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens, or communicates to or about, a person, engages in other non-consensual contact, or interferes with or damages a person’s property or pet. The incarceration in a penal institution of a person who commits the course of conduct is not a bar to prosecution under this Section.
(2) “Electronic communication” means any transfer of signs, signals, writings, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectric, or photo-optical system. “Electronic communication” includes transmissions by a computer through the Internet to another computer.
(3) “Emotional distress” means significant mental suffering, anxiety or alarm.
(4) “Harass” means to engage in a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that alarms, torments, or terrorizes that person.
(5) “Non-consensual contact” means any contact with the victim that is initiated or continued without the victim’s consent, including but not limited to being in the physical presence of the victim; appearing within the sight of the victim; approaching or confronting the victim in a public place or on private property; appearing at the workplace or residence of the victim; entering onto or remaining on property owned, leased, or occupied by the victim; or placing an object on, or delivering an object to, property owned, leased, or occupied by the victim.
(6) “Reasonable person” means a person in the victim’s circumstances, with the victim’s knowledge of the defendant and the defendant’s prior acts.
(7) “Third party” means any person other than the person violating these provisions and the person or persons towards whom the violator’s actions are directed.
DeBlasio Law Group, LLC is committed to public service and advancing causes that better society. The author of this post, Antonio DeBlasio, is a father and serves as a mentor to one junior high student each year at Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205. Mr. DeBlasio is the founding member of DeBlasio Law Group, LLC and is a past recipient of the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services Distinguished Service Award. Visit our website at www.DeBlasioLawGroup.com.