Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Social Media: (But Were Too Afraid to Ask)

Criminal Law and Social Media

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was added to title 18 of the United States Code in 1986. Though the law mostly pertains to those who would use a computer to steal classified information from any department in the United States government in order to cause injury to the United States, it also makes illegal the use of any computer without authorization of the owner of the computer that causes any harm to anything, and using a computer to defraud someone across state lines. The CFAA has been tried in court in its relation to social media. Lori Drew was charged for bullying a girl, Megan Meier, on the social media site myspace till Meier killed herself. This prompted many states to write criminal codes that made cyber bullying illegal. The court case is most notable for its ruling that a breach of Terms of Service on a website does not constitute unauthorized access and as therefore does not fall under the jurisdiction of the CFAA.

Cyberstalking and Cyberharassment

Cyberstalking and cyberharassment are terms used almost interchangeably. United States Code title 18, section 875, defines cyberstalking and/or cyberharassment as "Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce in any communications containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another."

Forty five states have adopted similar laws for online threat making, such was Washington State code title 9, chapter 61, section 260, which defines cyberstalking specific as using a computer "with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person..."

In 2016, David Matusiewicz, his sister Amy Gonzalez, and his mother Lenore, were sentenced to life in prison for cyberstalking the man's exwife, which led to the exwife's murder. The case is considered a major game changer in how cyberstalking laws are held up in court. Matusiewicz, his sister and mother, used fake social media accounts to harass, monitor, and spread misinformation about Matusiewicz's exwife.

Also in 2016, Michael Daniel Rubens was sentenced to 10 years in prison for using social media accounts to harass young women.


Cyberbullying is not explicitly not against any federal criminal code. Though cyberharassment is illegal in nearly all of the United States, only five states have criminal codes to against cyberbulling. If the bullying is due to race, religion or sexual orientation, it may fall under other codes.

Child Pornography

Child pornography is defined in title 18 section 2251 of the United States code as a visual depiction of a minor commiting sexually explicit conduct. Sexual explicit conduct is not limited to sexual activity. Anytime the internet is used to posses or transmit child pornography, the federal government has jurisdiction.

The important part to take from this section is that federal child pornography laws due pertain to naked selfies taken by under aged individuals. Minors who use social media apps, like snapchat and facebook, to transmit naked selfies have broken a federal law, and the United States government has been known to follow through with prosecuting those minors.

"Notably, the legal definition of sexually explicit conduct does not require that an image depict a child engaging in sexual activity."

"Federal law prohibits the production, distribution, reception, and possession of an image of child pornography using or affecting any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce..."

"Federal jurisdiction almost always applies when the Internet is used to commit a child pornography violation."

In 2010 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, ten teens were charged with distributing child pornography for sending each other naked selfies.


Work Cited

United States Code

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