Could You Face Felony Charges for Online Impersonation?

picture of distressed impersonation victimMany people on the internet today use trolling or distasteful jokes to make fake online profiles that mimic people unfavorably on the internet. This may seem funny to the person making the joke, but depending on the severity of the impersonation, Texas state law will intervene and the joke loses its humor. A person who impersonates someone else with an online profile with the intent to harm, intimidate, defraud, or send messages through social media on their behalf is subject to a felony charge. What about the right to free speech? The First Amendment is still protected, but under Texas law, this offense is a third-degree felony, equitable to a DWI or theft charges of over $30,000.

What Defines Online Impersonation

Taking or assuming someone’s identity must be proven. Just because somebody makes a joke Facebook page with the same name as someone else, doesn’t mean they are actually impersonating them. For example, imagine that someone created a duplicate law firm web page that posted food blogs all day. Obviously, they aren’t really acting on behalf of the lawyers, they are simply playing a joke.  Their actions must be proven to be close enough to the real person’s actions and have malicious intent, to hold up in court.

Is the impersonation harmful? The activities by the accused impersonator must be proven to degrade the actual person’s identity and reputation. For example, a case two years ago in San Angelo, where a man was found guilty under this law after he assumed another local man’s identity to send and receive nude photographs.

What about the First Amendment? The court has narrowed the online impersonation law to protect the first amendment. Someone can make a fake profile and post many different types of content, as long as they are not acting exactly like someone else, in a harmful and intrusive way. Texas law is strong against online impersonation; however, first amendment rights must be included in the picture.

Contact Lewisville criminal justice attorneys at Julian, Crowder & Shuster law firm if you have questions about online impersonation laws.


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