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653 2 PC Electronic Cyber Harassment Law in California

July 2, 2021 California Penal Code

According to California Penal Code 653.2 PC, it is a crime to send electronic communications (such as emails or text messages) with intentions of placing the recipient in reasonable fear for his or her safety or that of his or her close relatives. This crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year behind bars and fines of up to $1000.00.

This section was enacted by the California Legislature in 2008.  Since then, posting certain types of harmful information about other people on the internet is a criminal act. This crime is sometimes referred to as “electronic harassment” or “indirect cyber-harassment.”

Indirect electronic harassment is different from “direct electronic harassment” or cyberstalking, which is a crime under Penal Code 646.9 PC.  For direct electronic harassment/cyberstalking, the defendant is the one who personally harassed or stalked the victim in question.

On the other hand, with indirect electronic harassment under PC 653.2, the defendant simply needs to post information on the internet that would encourage other people to harass or stalk the victim.


Indirect electronic harassment: A Legal definition

The legal definition of posting harmful information online pursuant to California Penal Code 653.2 is:

Using an electronic communication device to electronically distribute, publish, email, hyperlink or make personal identifying information or an electronic message of a harassing nature about another person available for downloading;

Doing so without that person’s consent;

Doing so with the intent to put that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her immediate family;

Doing so for the purpose of imminently bring to that other person unwanted physical contact, injury or harassment; and

The personal identifying information or message you distributed would be likely to incite or produce that unwanted physical contact, injury or harassment.


Within the confines of California’s indirect internet harassment law, the word “harassment” means a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that a reasonable person would consider as seriously alarming, annoying, tormenting or terrorizing that person, and that serves no other purpose.

The term “Electronic communication devices” encompasses Telephones, Cell phones and Smart phones, Internet phones, Computers and Laptops, Internet web pages or sites, Personal data assistants (PDAs), Video recorders,  and Fax machines.


Penalties connected to the crime of posting harmful things on the internet

Indirect cyber-harassment according to California Penal Code 653.2 PC is a misdemeanor in California law.  The penalties for this crime include misdemeanor (also known as summary) probation, up to one year in county jail,  and/or a fine of up to one thousand dollars.

Legal defenses to Electronic Cyber Harassment Charges

The customary legal defenses against charges of indirect electronic harassment/posting harmful information on the internet are connected to the complicated intent requirements of this charge.

As we explained earlier, you are only guilty of PC 653.2 if you intended both to put the alleged victim in reasonable fear for his or her safety or that of his or her immediate family and to cause any third party to injure, harass or make unwanted physical contact with the victim or victims.

The line between casual or humorous comments on the internet and electronic cyber harassment is blurry.  Unless you had the required criminal intent, you cannot be found guilty of indirect internet harassment, even in the event that something you posted or wrote actually did lead to another person harassing someone else.


We can help you

You can read more California resources for cyberexploitation victims by clicking here.  If you have more  questions about the crime of Penal Code 653.2 PC indirect cyber-harassment/posting harmful information on the internet, or you need to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, feel free to reach out to us at Spodek Law Group.


We serve clients in criminal law defense in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, Orange County, Riverside, the San Francisco Bay area, and other cities nearby.




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