What Is Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking occurs when a person repeatedly harasses, threatens, abuses, intimidates, or frightens someone online or while using electronic communication methods. Acts that could be considered cyberstalking include:
- Tracking someone’s computer and internet use to follow their location
- Using other technological tactics or data to track someone’s location without their consent
- Joining the same online groups and forums as someone to target or watch them
- Creating fake accounts to follow and interact with a person online
- Sending a person unwanted online gifts or items
- Hacking into someone else’s phone or computer camera to watch and record their movements (without their knowledge or consent)
Cyberstalking vs. Cyberbullying
Cyberstalking is different than cyberbullying or cyber harassment. While cyberstalking involves using electronic communication methods and online activity to track and intimidate a person, cyberbullying can involve threatening bullying a person online. Cyber harassment can also include:
- Sending frightening, unwanted, and/or lewd messages to someone via email, text, social media, etc.
- Threatening someone on social media (in the comments section, via direct message, etc.)
- Tagging a person in posts repeatedly to flood their inbox
- Demanding or attempting to extort explicit photos from someone online
To learn more about cyberbullying, read our previous blog, “How Is Cyberbullying Defined in Wisconsin?”
Wisconsin Laws & Cyberstalking
In Wisconsin, there is not a specific law concerning cyberstalking. However, a person can be charged with unlawful use of computerized communication systems (see Wisconsin Legislature § 947.0125). The unlawful use of computerized communication systems occurs when a person sends offensive, threatening, lewd, or irritating online messages (i.e. messages sent via text, email, or social media direct messages) to another person with the intent to frighten, threaten, abuse, harass, or intimidate them. Legally, messages can include pictures, audio messages, writing, signs, signals, data, or intelligence of any nature.
In cases where the cyberstalking involves sending lewd or profane messages or suggest a lewd or lascivious act, a person can be charged with a Class B forfeiture, which does not exceed $1,000. Violations of this law can be enhanced to a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 90 days of imprisonment and/or a fine of no more than $1,000, if a person intended to seriously frighten or intimidate the alleged victim.
A person may also face stalking charges if they engage in cyberstalking. Under Wisconsin Legislature § 940.32, stalking occurs when a person knowingly engages in a course of conduct with the same purpose that causes distress to another person and knows that the conduct could cause another person to suffer emotional physical harm. Under this statute, course of conduct is defined as a series of two or more act completed over time with the same intent, such as:
- Confronting another party
- Approaching another party
- Consistently preserving visual or physical proximity to the alleged victim
- Coming to the alleged victim’s workplace or home
- Contacting another person’s employers, friends, family, and/or neighbors
- Entering the alleged victim’s home or property without their knowledge or consent
- Contacting another party via phone, mail, or other electronic means or causing their phone to rings or repeatedly receive notification
- Monitoring or recording the other party’s actions (i.e. videotaping, audio recording, etc.)
- Delivering or placing objects or “gifts” to the alleged victim’s property
- Delivering objects or gifts to the alleged victim’s workplace or their family’s, friends’, or coworkers’ homes or property
In most cases, stalking is a Class I felony, which is punishable by a fine of $10,000 and/or up to three and a half years of imprisonment. Stalking charges can be enhanced to a Class H felony if the defendant:
- Committed the act against a minor.
- Also commits any act of interception and disclosure of wire, electronic, or oral communication (see Wisconsin Statute § 968.31) or wire taps the other party (see Wisconsin Statute § 968.34).
- Has previously been convicted of a violent crime.
- Accessed or gained access to the alleged victim’s personally identifiable information while in commission of this crime.
- Has been convicted of a crime (within the past seven years) that involves the same alleged victim.
A Class H felony is punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to six years of imprisonment. Stalking can also be enhanced a Class F felony, which is punishable by a $25,000 fine and up to 12.5 years of imprisonment, when:
- The alleged victim or a member of their family or household suffers bodily harm.
- The accused uses a dangerous weapon during the commission of the act.
Get Legal Help
With over 20 years of legal experience, The Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella is dedicated to helping protect our clients’ rights and freedom. If you or a loved one have been charged with a cyberstalking-related offense, our attorney is more than equipped to help you develop a tailored defense strategy.
Call (414) 882-8382 and schedule an initial consultation today.