Rhode Island Teen Facing 'Domestic Violence' Charges For 'Inappropriate' Facebook Message Sent To A Girl He Met

from the don't-be-a-jerk-online dept

We’ve seen a growing number of vague and worrisome laws passed over the past few years to try to outlaw being a jerk online. Earlier this year, we noted one such law in Rhode Island, which was technically dubbed an “anti-cyberstalking” law, though we worried about just how vague and open for abuse it was. Well, we’ve now got the first charges filed under the new law. Kashmir Hill points us to the news that a 15-year-old boy is facing “domestic violence” charges for some “inappropriate” messages he sent via Facebook to a 16-year-old girl he met.

Police say the 15-year-old Barrington boy met a 16-year-old girl while taking classes this summer and they started to talk through Facebook.

But police say the 16-year-old felt uncomfortable when the messages started getting inappropriate.

Police started the investigation in July and now they’ve charged the minor with cyber stalking, which is now punishable under the domestic violence prevention act.

There are a whole series of issues here. While the text of the messages hasn’t been revealed, the fact that the judgment is based on the girl “feeling uncomfortable” leaves open a wide range of possible abuses. If I feel “uncomfortable” about comments on Techdirt, can I really have the police investigate and potentially send someone to jail because of it? Even the RI representative who wrote the law says that this use is “not what she envisioned.” However, she then says it’s okay because “the law might stop it from happening to someone else.”

Really? Stop what exactly? A boy sending a message to a girl that makes her feel uncomfortable? That’s called “most of high school” for some boys. And since there’s no clear way to determine what is and what is not appropriate here, do we really want to be charging kids under things like domestic violence laws just because they go too far in a Facebook message? I’m not saying that the kid shouldn’t be dealt with in some way if the messages really are “inappropriate,” but can’t they be dealt with in other ways? Block him on Facebook or have parents punish him. Involving the police and charges? Seems “inappropriate.”

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Comments on “Rhode Island Teen Facing 'Domestic Violence' Charges For 'Inappropriate' Facebook Message Sent To A Girl He Met”

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TheStupidOne says:

Re: Re: Re:

Shouldn’t she just start with telling him how he is making her feel? Even a simple “You are making me uncomfortable, please stop talking to me” is quite effective with the majority of guys.

People need to fix their own problems and when that is impossible or ineffective use a graduated response approach. Ask him to leave you alone, if he doesn’t ask your parents to talk to his parents or alternate authority figure, if that doesn’t work go to the police or other higher authority.

Now of course if she’s actually being threatened it becomes a different story altogether.

Erin B. says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Hahaha! Sorry to be dismissive, but no, it really isn’t. First of all, women and girls are thoroughly conditioned to not say that, because it makes you sound like an oversensitive bitch. It’s a good faith effort that I agree should be made, but man has it ever been ineffective in my own experience.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Look, if you’re not going to *read the fscking article*, why are you posting? Are you really so hard-up for attention that you have to do this?

If you want to tell Mike you love him with a passion that dare not speak its name, then just come out and tell him.
Unless you’re in the second grade, it’s just embarrassing to see this “hitting the person you have a crush on” crap.

Please learn to express your feelings like an adult so that the rest of us don’t have to read this crap.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You two are such gits… my point exactly.

Mike admits to not knowing, so how can he draw any conclusion about police involvement? Maybe the guy suggested he was going to kill all her family and rape her goldfish. Who knows? We don’t. Mike doesn’t. So why draw conclusion with way less than the facts?

You guys need to read my comments as well as Mike’s, and then you might catch on.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Pay attention, the comments made her feel “uncomfortable” not “threatened”. “Uncomfortable” means “he was coming on to me and I don’t like him in that way”; “threatened” means “He said he was going to kill my family and rape my goldfish”.

And a little critical thinking would tell you that it wasn’t anything like a threat. If it was a direct threat, the comment in question would be all over the news with the claim that this is why we need these overbearing laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:


Threats make me uncomfortable. Do they not cause you to feel the same way?

Critical thinking would be “Mike doesn’t know what was said, so he cannot draw conclusions on what is or what is not appropriate”.

Kissing Mike’s ass would be “Pay attention, the comments made her feel…”

See the difference?

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Read the article again (or for the first time as would seem to be your case); the police said that the girl felt uncomfortable. The police said that, not the girl, not the father, not some third party layman. The police would use the correct term. If there was a threat, the police would say the girl felt threatened.

Have I said police enough to drill it into your head that a professional said this; a professional who would be bias towards this law. A professional who would not screw up and say a non-legal word.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Wait, are these the same professionals that sprayed the pepper spray on Wall street? You need to pick one side and work with it!

Seriously, the police’s use of “uncomfortable” doesn’t really say anything. Nor is it particularly relevant to my point. My point is Mike is drawing a conclusion without having the facts, and jumping up and down about the police being involved without knowing everything.

If that doesn’t make you “uncomfortable”, I doubt threats on your goldfish will.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“Wait, are these the same professionals that sprayed the pepper spray on Wall street?”

That proves my point. These cops wouldn’t be downplaying something like a threat. They would be hyping it all over the nation as a sign that they’re doing right, that they need these laws to do their job. The simple fact that a cop is downplaying the comment says that it’s not much of a comment.

And your point isn’t to shed light on just this article, your point is to harass Mike and to berate anyone who has a different opinion then you. Beware what you say, your making people feel uncomfortable.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Mike admits to not knowing, so how can he draw any conclusion about police involvement?”

Probably because if it was anything serious, the charges wouldn’t be based “on the girl feeling uncomfortable”, but would istead revolve around a threat posed by the boy.

Man, reading between the lines ain’t THAT hard….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Man, reading between the lines ain’t THAT hard….”

I think this statement gets to the heart of the differences between ‘insiders’ and some ACs. And really its to ACs point. The ‘between the lines’ part is subjective, we don’t all see the same thing there.

TD loves this kind of position where subjective opinion is never right or wrong. Mike can declare himself correct and many regular readers will accept that. Some of us do not have the insider faith.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

+1 Jerk

I point out that we have different subjective opinions and you insult me. Until we have the facts it is all subjective. There really is more than one way to look at the situation here, it is too bad that you cannot see that but it is your prerogative to be close minded. So glad I wasted time on techdirt.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Wow, buddy, that’s some mighty thin skin you have there. The point is that we know enough about how law enforcement behaves to know the answer to the question you’re asking.

Do we have the text of the messages? No. But we don’t need them to make a judgement about how egregious that text was.

Come on and cowboy up, partner. It wasn’t THAT bad an insult, or you’d have had the cops arrest me….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

I did not ask any question. Just pointed out that there are multiple interpretations, since we do not have the facts, any of them could be right or wrong.

It is not think skin as much as I do not appreciate it. Honestly, it is difficult to have a productive exchange here when everyone jumps to being a jerk.

S (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

Any time a complainant makes a spurious complaint, we should take them seriously! Because they might actually have a real issue they said nothing about!

Because ‘multiple interpretations’ is license to fabricate harm where none exists!

I know! I’ll “interpret” your posts as a series of death threats against me! And you can’t stop me; it’s my interpretation!


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Man, reading between the lines ain’t THAT hard….”

DH, when it’s Mike writing the lines, it’s very hard to read between them. He is the master on intentionally leaving things out, excluding needed information or perhaps introducing non-relevant information (see the camera / gun post as a great example), and sometimes drawing the lines one over another.

So, sadly, in this case there is huge gaps between the lines, and both of us can draw our own conclusions that fit within those lines. It’s my entire point at the end, Mike selected a single conclusion, where the information provided allows for many other conclusions that would not agree with him at all.

Any Mouse (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

That’s why you read the linked posts, as well. Want to blame Mike for everything? That’s fine. But if you’re going to blame him for what the linked article doesn’t show, then maybe it’s time to step back. Because that is what you are doing, blaming Mike for the lack of information that he has no control over.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

But, for those who say domestic violence is a harsh penalty for a 15-year-old allegedly harassing someone online, Representative Coderre says its not what she envisioned with the law but it might stop it from happening to someone else.

“If this is an activity he’s engaging in it might be a good wake up call not to do this.”

Representative Coderre says she worked with the Coalition on Domestic Violence for four or five years to make traditional stalking the same punishment as cyber stalking.

So “cyberstalking” is domestic violence?
A better wake up call for him might have been, I dunno her adult calling his adult and pointing out there is an issue and finding a solution. But that is to much like parenting, and why do that when you can just have the government take all the responsibility.

I can’t wait for word to get around school that she flipped out over some words on Facebook and the kids shut her out, and then she can try to complain no one wants to talk to her anymore and its not fair, then we can force kids to talk to her… that will end well.

The Incoherent One (profile) says:

These types of laws are horse shit. People still have the option to read/not read whatever they want. If it made the girl uncomfortable to read the messages then should should have blocked him and not read them. Getting the police involved is stupid and a waste of taxpayers time. People need to learn not to be dependent on government to take care of EVERYTHING for them.

smoked salmon says:

There is no need for a new ‘web law’ as you can apply the existing framework online. The problem is the interpretation and application, in terms of harassment, this can be far too wide. Being a jerk online is not acceptable but the law can be an ass in cyberspace? It really does baffle me when police get involved, people are charged and risk time in prison.

We’ve seen definite overkill in other social media, such as Twitter and Paul Chambers – http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/311282

Louis Smith (profile) says:

Another movie reference...

… these kinds of articles make me think we are getting closer and closer to “you have been fined 1 credit for violating the verbal morality code”. We’ve already taken PC too far in the office, now we’re rolling it down to the kids.. Pretty soon, “growing up” will be illegal. But then again, this is just because it is “on the internet”. Just get the kids to go back to being jerks and bullies on the playground where they belong.

Jake says:

Without knowing the exact contents of the messages in question I’ll have to reserve judgement, because there is being a jerk online and there is sexual harrassment and making threats.

Nevertheless, regardless of whether what was said actually constitutes the latter, this should not have gone to court for a first offence. There are attitude-adjustment strategies that don’t require saddling a dumnb teenage kid who was too immature to know any better with a criminal record.

A Monkey with Atitude (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Except 1 big point in the whole thing i think alot of people missed.

If the kid crossed the line to harassment, and threats, or “sexual miss-conduct” laws already exist to prevent that type of behavior. Why the “special” law? If he did cross the line and could be charged with any of the other 3 the Police/DA would have done so. They made a choose not to, so now they will try to push this new law, with little to no case law to back it up in an attempt to make it easier next time (and the next)…

Something on the Legal side of things is fishy… anyway you look at it and they are trying to ruin a 15 year old’s life in the process…

My my how far we have fallen…

Victor David says:

If I feel “uncomfortable” about comments on Techdirt, can I really have the police investigate and potentially send someone to jail because of it?

Perhaps not, but we are getting closer. Starting with sexual harassment laws, the definition of wrong-doing has become more and more centered around how the “victim” feels, not what the “perpetrator” did in actual real-world terms.

Regrettably, some of this is necessary. We can’t always spell-out every single action that constitutes a violation of a law. The law is frequently subjective. But these days, we have a lot of focus on reaction to the deed in determining violation, rather than on the deed itself.

S (user link) says:

Re: Re:

So you think it’s more important to ensure that every crime is punished, than to ensure that the public has some measure of liberty?

This reminds me of a conversation I had with this one guy who said if he had room mates he’d want to surgically attach monitoring devices to them to measure their breath, body heat, eating, and movements so he’d know exactly how much (to the fraction of a cent) to charge for rent every month — because god forbid he fail to bill them for anything he possibly could.

This is the exact same logic; the sad thing is, I’m not making this conversation up, either — and if you think that “punishing crime” is more important than civil liberty, then you’re exactly the same as the person I just described — only you want to do it to the entire world.

Jay Flatiron (profile) says:


Mike doesn’t really draw a conclusion.

In fact about half the sentences in the last two paragraphs are actually questions. At most he uses this incident to suggest that this new law is too vague and may be used or overused with unintended results.

Kinda like how this comment section is intended for people to discuss the articles, but is instead used or overused by people who think simply because they can comment or post online, they should.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Curious

pssst… I think those are meant to be ‘thought provoking’ questions. They sometimes lead to discussion, where differing points of view are debated. Occasionally they are punctuated with AC attacks on Mike for various sins. Sometimes people with wacky avatars make snide comments, and they get voted funny. Sometimes the wacky avatar people get voted insightful or picked for week in review posts. Its amazing how this discussion thing works sometimes.

Things you can conclude –
This issue bubbled to the surface and Mike found it worthy of covering.
Rather than have a blog where he dictates what everyone should think, he often tries to encourage dissenting opinions and discussion.
More often than not, people seem to agree with his assessment.

I comment and post because I think I should, and sometimes its even relevant.

Anonymous Coward says:


He should not be charged with “cyberstalking” for just sending Facebook messages to her, no matter how inappropriate. Even if the messages rose to the level of criminal threats to her, it would not be “stalking” her in any reasonable sense of the word.

Think of it this way: if he stood on his front lawn and she was on the sidewalk, and he started making those comments in person, would that be “stalking”? Of course not. She is free to walk away. So when those same comments are made online, in a medium where she is free to “walk away” by unfriending/blocking him, why is that “cyberstalking”?

G Thompson (profile) says:

This is NOT Domestic Violence

Don’t know about America but here in Australia ‘domestic violence’ only applies where the victim of violence and/or threatened violence is or has been in a particular kind of relationship of either co-habitation, familial (family), or long-term sexual (sometimes even non-sexual) partners. Not someone you meet at school, work, or down the street, whether you know them or not.

Why DV is even talked about here dilutes the very foundation of Domestic Violence. If anything this should be treated as high end harassment and treated accordingly through CURRENT laws that the USA as every other democratic country has.

Thebes says:

Free Speech

“Inappropriate” messages are still Free Speech even if utterly repugnant.

Nothing in the story indicates any unlawful threat of violence, so I will presume there was none, surely the police would have mentioned if there were.

This is just a government attempt to cut back our Freedoms at the bequest of it’s elitist backers who fear our Freedoms. If government can prosecute a man for “inappropriate” internet comments, that power will be used to stifle legitimate criticism of the government and it’s cronies.

Its time that We the People rise up and throw these b/tards out.

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