Facebook is not only a site where you can connect with friends and family while taking in a game of FrontierVille, it’s also a complex network that spans the entire world. So what happens when someone stalks you on Facebook, while sending you disturbing messages? In the past the outcome was typically a slap on the wrist, possibly a misdemenour charge, but that could soon change. The new outcome? Federal Interstate stalking charges if the person that’s stalking you lives in another state.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent star Kathryn Erbe is currently involved in a 2 year stalking case in which deranged fan Charles Nagel not only visited her shooting location in New York, but also harassed her daughter and brother through the popular Facebook service and MySpace. Prosecutors are now determined to have Nagel charged with interstate stalking, a charge that brings with it up to 5-years in prison and a felony count on the guilty person’s record.
While Nagel’s travel to New York city is at the center of the controversy, a guilty verdict with Federal charges attached could give enough precedence for further interstate charges to be filed against Facebook followers who have chosen to stalk their prey online across state lines. The question will become, where is the line drawn between stalking someone from another state in person versus over the internet. Enough news of suicides by harassment and fights caused by text messages have arisen lately that the social impact during the outcome of this case could stem beyond simple misdemeanors charges.
While the case is far from determined, it will be interesting to see how social media plays it’s part in the trial, a guilty verdict in a case dominated by social media mentions could help form social network policing policies for years to come.
What do you think, should Facebook, MySpace and other social networking harassment be tolerated more than traditional stalking or should these crazy online stalkers face harsher penalties as they use modern means to attack their obsessions?