People have been impersonating other people for reasons such as personal gain and revenge since the dawn of time. In the internet age, impersonation is accomplished more easily than it has ever been before. Because internet impersonation can have devastating consequences, Texas statute prohibits online impersonation in two different ways. One portion of the statute covers web pages on both commercial networking sites and other websites, and the other section deals with email and message boards.
Impersonating Another on a Social Networking Site or Other Website
Impersonating another on social media is prohibited by law if all the following elements are met:
- The person does not have the consent of the person they are impersonating;
- The intent of the person is to cause harm, or defraud, or threaten, or intimidate another;
- The person uses the other’s name or persona; and either
- The person creates a web page on a networking site or other website; or
- The person posts or sends messages using the site (other than through email or message boards).
Impersonating Another through Email
Email is another type of internet communication that may be used to impersonate another. Similar to impersonating another on a social networking site, several elements must be met for the state to prove online impersonation via email or messaging board, as follows:
- The person sends either an email, an instant message, a text message or other, similar message which includes references to the name, domain address, phone number or other information which identifies one other than the sender;
- The person doesn’t have consent to make this representation;
- The purpose of using the other person’s name is to cause the recipient of the information to believe the other person either sent the message themselves or authorized another to do so; and
- The intent of the message is to harm or defraud anyone, including both the recipient, the named person, or another human being.
What is the punishment for Online Impersonation?
Impersonating someone via social networking or other websites is a felony in the third degree, punishable by up to a $10,000 fine, up to 10 years in prison, or both, with a minimum punishment of two years in prison. Impersonating someone through email is a Class A misdemeanor, which can result in a jail sentence of up to one year, a fine of up to $4,000, or both.
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Penal Code Section 33.07
(a) A person commits an offense if the person, without obtaining the other person’s consent and with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten any person, uses the name or persona of another person to:
(1) create a web page on a commercial social networking site or other Internet website; or
(2) post or send one or more messages on or through a commercial social networking site or other Internet website, other than on or through an electronic mail program or message board program.
(b) A person commits an offense if the person sends an electronic mail, instant message, text message, or similar communication that references a name, domain address, phone number, or other item of identifying information belonging to any person:
(1) without obtaining the other person’s consent;
(2) with the intent to cause a recipient of the communication to reasonably believe that the other person authorized or transmitted the communication; and
(3) with the intent to harm or defraud any person.
(c) An offense under Subsection (a) is a felony of the third degree. An offense under Subsection (b) is a Class A misdemeanor, except that the offense is a felony of the third degree if the actor commits the offense with the intent to solicit a response by emergency personnel.
(d) If conduct that constitutes an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under any other law, the actor may be prosecuted under this section, the other law, or both.
(e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the actor is any of the following entities or that the actor’s conduct consisted solely of action taken as an employee of any of the following entities:
(1) a commercial social networking site;
(2) an Internet service provider;
(3) an interactive computer service, as defined by 47 U.S.C. Section 230;
(4) a telecommunications provider, as defined by Section 51.002, Utilities Code; or
(5) a video service provider or cable service provider, as defined by Section 66.002, Utilities Code.
(f) In this section:
(1) “Commercial social networking site” means any business, organization, or other similar entity operating a website that permits persons to become registered users for the purpose of establishing personal relationships with other users through direct or real-time communication with other users or the creation of web pages or profiles available to the public or to other users. The term does not include an electronic mail program or a message board program.
(2) “Identifying information” has the meaning assigned by Section 32.51.