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February 28, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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When It’s a Lot More Than ‘Like’

“Hey baby, come over to MySpace, so that you can Twitter my Yahoo until I Google all over your Facebook…”

For a minstrel of love, social media can be a loud and stirring instrument. But what if the intentions aren’t so pure? Salient explores what can happen when love meets the Internet.

During your first week at university, you meet a lot of people. And by ‘meet’, I mean—you learn their name, but you’re too intimidated to talk to them, and so you look them up on Facebook. You discover that you have friends in common, similar taste in music, a mutual love of Arrested Development—you even both attended that party that time.

Don’t worry: we all do it. Facebook pours oil on the stormy waters of social interaction, flagging shared interests and potential conversation starters. It can be a great tool for forging or reinforcing friendships—but Facebook can also be used for altogether more sinister purposes. What do you do when a ‘Like’ becomes one ‘Like’ too many? When your inbox is flooded with wrathful and poorly-spelled notifications from just one ‘Friend’? When you receive unsolicited ‘Pokes’ time and time again? When a little harmless Facebook-stalking is, in fact, just plain stalking?

Social media was established with the intention of making it easier to keep tabs on your friends—but that extends to people you’ve noticed in lectures, or who live down your street. It’s even possible, with considerable time and dedication, to track down that girl you glimpsed at a sold-out screening of The Room at the Paramount, with whom you have no mutual friends. As a result, Facebook is a powerful tool for those whose routines bite hard, and resentment rides high—for those who have been torn apart by love, again.

In the eyes of the law, there’s online harassment, and there’s cyber-stalking. In simple terms, online harassment consists of sending unwanted abusive, threatening or obscene emails, which extends to Facebook posts. In contrast, cyber-stalking refers to the use of electronic devices, such as the Internet or email, to pursue another person. New Zealand law has three Acts that deal with harassment in ‘the real world’: the Harassment Act 1997, the Domestic Violence Act 1995, and the Telecommunications Act 2001. As District Court Judge David Harvey outlined in his paper, ‘Cyberstalking and Internet Harassment: What the Law Can Do’, these Acts can be manipulated to cover online offences, thus leading to convictions.

In November last year, 20-year-old Joshua Ashby was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment for posting a photograph of his ex-girlfriend naked on Facebook. In an “irresponsible drunken jealous rage” following a break-up, he accessed his ex-girlfriend’s Facebook account, uploaded a nude photo of said ex-girlfriend, and then removed the account’s privacy restrictions, so that any of Facebook’s 500 million users could view it.

Ashby was found guilty under the seldom-used morality and decency section of the Crimes Act, which restricts the distribution of indecent or immoral subject matter. This was believed to be the first time someone was sentenced for a crime committed using social media under this section of the Act—although his conviction also reflected six other charges of threatening to kill, willful damage, theft and assault, which presumably made up the majority of the sentence.

Be that as it may, Ashby’s is just one in a string of stories that reassert the need for caution when operating on the internet. Although you might not have nude self-portraits published online, it’s still sensible to remember that what you put up on the internet is more or less public information. So, if there’s a moral to the story, it’s this: when it doubt, take it offline.

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About the Author ()

Elle started out at Salient reviewing music. In 2010, she wrote features and Animal of The Week, which an informal poll revealed to be 40% of Victoria students' favourite part of the magazine. Alongside Uther Dean, she was co-editor for 2011. In 2012, she is chief features writer.

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