24/7 call for a free consultation 212-300-5196




When you’re facing a federal issue, you need an attorney whose going to be available 24/7 to help you get the results and outcome you need. The value of working with the Spodek Law Group is that we treat each and every client like a member of our family.

Can false statements made on social media lead to criminal charges?

Can false statements on social media lead to criminal charges?

Social media is a huge part of most people’s lives these days. We post about our lives, our opinions, our jobs, our families – pretty much everything. And with a few clicks, our posts can be seen by hundreds or even thousands of people.

But what happens when those posts cross a line? Can posting false information actually get you in legal trouble? Let’s take a look…

Defamation – When Posts Become Libel

If you post false statements about another person that end up damaging their reputation or livelihood, you could be on the hook for defamation. The technical term is “libel” since we’re talking about written statements.

Some common examples:

  • Posting that your former boss sexually harassed you at work, when that never happened. This could damage their career.
  • Saying a local business served you tainted food, and that you got sick, when you never even ate there. This could hurt their revenues.
  • Making up a rumor that your neighbor is a drug dealer who holds wild parties every night. This could hurt their reputation in the community.

So if your false statements lead to provable monetary damages (like the business losing money), you’ve opened yourself up to a civil defamation lawsuit. Even if no specific damages can be shown, you could still face consequences. After all, nobody wants their reputation ruined by lies spread online!

Can you be criminally charged for defamation though? Usually not, unless the statements are truly egregious. But in many places, defamation is considered a misdemeanor crime, punishable by fines or even jail time in some cases.

For example, in 2018 a Boston woman was charged criminally for posting fake negative reviews of her former employer. Prosecutors alleged the false reviews caused the business to lose over $20,000 in revenue.

So while criminal charges are rare, they can happen in extreme cases. The threat of a civil lawsuit is much more common though.

False Accusations and “Swatting”

Let’s say you really have it out for someone. Instead of just posting something mean or false about them, you decide to try and sic the authorities on them!

This could include calling in a fake tip to law enforcement accusing them of a crime. Or you might falsely report them for child abuse, domestic violence, or other serious allegations that will trigger an urgent response.

Trying to bring armed law enforcement down on an innocent person is no joke. In fact, it’s a crime known as “swatting” – named after SWAT teams that may respond to fake violent incidents.

Many states have passed criminal laws specifically targeting swatting and false reporting. Penalties can include fines in the tens of thousands of dollars, and years behind bars.

In 2017, a Los Angeles man received a 5 year prison sentence for making a fake emergency call leading to an innocent man’s death. So false accusations made just to harass someone are absolutely criminal acts in themselves.

True Threats

Maybe your social media rants about someone don’t go as far as swatting. But if you still cross the line into “true threats”, you could face charges.

This means statements made to instill fear or intimidation. For example:

  • Telling someone you’re going to beat them up or kill them
  • Encouraging others to commit violence against a person or group
  • Making implied threats like “you better watch your back”

The Supreme Court has ruled that true threats aren’t protected speech under the First Amendment. Threatening physical harm is illegal under both federal and state laws. Many states also prohibit threats made to damage property or reputation.

So think twice before blowing off steam online, especially if your rant could be taken as a real threat. You don’t want to end up with a criminal record over an angry post.

Harassment and Cyberstalking

Repeatedly posting insults about someone or contacting them against their will can also lead to criminal charges for harassment or stalking.

Many states have cyberstalking and cyberharassment laws that make it illegal to:

  • Repeatedly contact or try contacting someone after being asked to stop
  • Use electronic communications to instill fear or emotional distress
  • Post private or embarrassing information about someone
  • Encourage others to harass or threaten someone

Penalties vary but can include thousands in fines and years in jail depending on the severity. Four states (Arkansas, Alabama, New Hampshire, and South Carolina) even classify some harassment as a felony offense.

So consistently targeting someone online, even if you don’t physically threaten them, could still result in criminal penalties.

Hate Speech and True Threats

Hate speech often goes hand-in-hand with online harassment campaigns. This means attacking or inciting violence against a person or group because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, etc.

While hate speech is not illegal in itself, it often crosses over into true threats or incitement – which IS against the law. For example:

  • Calling for a group of people to be killed or injured based on their identity.
  • Targeting an individual with threats of violence because of their race, gender, etc.

In these cases, the online posts become criminal acts. Over 30 states also have laws against intimidating or interfering with religious worship, which can include online activity.

So while you have a right to express your opinions, spreading messages of hate can easily turn into actual crimes. And the internet provides the perfect platform for hate to spread like wildfire.

Spreading Lies About Criminal Activity

One last way your social media posts could generate criminal charges – accusing someone of a crime they didn’t commit.

For example, saying someone vandalized property or stole money when that’s not true. Falsely stating someone belongs to a terrorist group or child sex ring.

Some states criminalize spreading false allegations like these, especially if it’s to damage someone’s reputation or get them in trouble.

For instance, California’s criminal defamation law imposes fines and jail time for knowingly spreading lies alleging a crime took place. Other states have similar laws against “false light” statements meant to portray someone as a criminal.

So make sure you have solid evidence before using social media to call someone out as a lawbreaker. Otherwise you could be the one who ends up behind bars!

The Bottom Line

The internet moves fast, and posts can spread far and wide before we even have time to think them through. But being on social media doesn’t make you immune from real-world laws and consequences.

While most careless posts won’t generate criminal charges, social media creates ample opportunities to cross legal lines. Spreading damaging lies about someone, making threats, inciting harassment – these can all lead down a path to prosecution and jail time in extreme cases.

So the next time you’re about to hit “send” on an angry rant or accusation, take a breath. Think about what kinds of trouble those words could cause, and whether they’re really worth it. With great social media power comes great responsibility… and legal liability.

Schedule Your Consultation Now