Online interaction carries real-life consequences

By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal

Taking an extra 30 seconds to review an online post during the heat of an argument could be the difference between a routine Facebook conversation and jail time.
Laws dealing with cybercrimes are relatively new nationwide, with most of Mississippi’s originating in 2003.
There is still little to no case law in Mississippi dealing with how cybercrimes are prosecuted, but cases are beginning to pop up. Last year, two men in a Lee County homeowners association brought criminal harassment charges against James Surratt after he sent more than 40 emails to the association concerning the neighborhood’s covenants being broken.
The case has not been resolved.
Tupelo Police Detective Brandon Garrett said he investigated two cases in 2011 in which nude photos were distributed without permission online.
“In one particular case, we had a man post a nude picture of his ex-spouse online and people saw it,” Garrett said. “That was injurious to her and that’s a felony charge.”
The man was charged with posting a message online with the purpose of causing injury, which can carry up to a five-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.
Similarly, if someone sends a lewd, harassing, obscene or unwanted telephone message, he or she can be sentenced to six months in county jail and subject to a $500 fine.
Tupelo attorney Jason Herring said with the increased use of online communication and lack of case law, it is unclear exactly how these laws will be prosecuted, but it is inevitable.
“I think most people would be shocked to see posting an injurious message could be prosecuted as a felony,” Herring said. “The problem is, we do not know exactly the definition parameters of what is an injurious message and therefore one could be subject to being prosecuted.”
The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, in a “Sexting, Cyberbullying amp& Facebook Points,” handout recommends taking 30 seconds before pressing enter to think about how the post may affect those involved.
“There is no question someone will be made an example of sooner or later, “Herring said. “As you know, people communicate more and more online. As that increases, the potential of violating the statute increases. I think our young people ought to take great attention because they’re so involved in Internet communication and make sure they’re not the ones being made an example of.
“People need to be reminded the Internet is not a playground that is unlimited to your actions and what you can do. People must be responsible for their actions on the Internet.”
Garrett said he takes each report on a case-by-case basis but once a credible threat has been established, the investigation moves forward.
“One thing we have to prove is if they have the means to carry out the threat,” Garrett said.
Once a threat is established, Garrett locates the IP address the threat came from and establishes a begins investigation.
jb.clark@journalinc.com