A few Texas prosecutors are invoking a 2011 state law that criminalizes some Internet misbehavior, reports the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. Cases that have gone forward typically stem from nasty personal feuds that target women. A female doctor was described as a prostitute on a dating site. An 18-year-old woman is accused of offering sexual favors to people if they would harass a former friend. Two middle school girls, ages 12 and 13, were charged with third-degree felonies in Hood County after being accused of creating a Facebook page of a 12-year-old classmate using her name and a picture of someone resembling her. Posts on the page contained profanity and threats to other students, authorities said.
The Texas law prohibits using someone else’s persona to “harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten any person” on websites. A charge can result in a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Many prosecutors see it as a powerful tool for cracking down on vindictive criminals. Defense attorneys are concerned that the law is far too broad and can make lampooning or goading someone a serious crime. Critics say what might be just a childish prank is now illegal. Law Prof. Jonathan Turley of George Washington University wrote that the Hood County case would “normally result in a serious sit down with school officials and parents for the students.” Hood County prosecutor Kelton Conner said identity theft has become “the killer” in recent years. The middle-school girls’ case is “like bullying,” he said. “And as far as its felony nature, the lawmakers have seen fit to make it a felony case.”