Nowadays, what you post on social media sites could result in criminal charges. Last year, a Pennsylvania appeals court upheld a teenager’s conviction of criminal harassment for lewd comments she posted on Facebook. The case is Commonwealth v. Cox, 2013 PA Super 221 (August 2, 2013).

The 18-year-old posted the following comments about another 15-year-old girl: “[Victim] has herpes. Ew, that’s gross. She should stop spreading her legs like her mother.” The younger girl and her mother reported the comments to the police, and charges were filed.

After a jury trial, the older girl was convicted of criminal harassment and sentenced to supervised probation for six months. The statute involved was 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709(a)(4), which prohibits anyone from communicating “to or about such other person any lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures” with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm the other.

The trial court noted that “[t]he Facebook post was intentionally made by [Defendant]. It stated that [Victim], then [15] years old, was not only sexually active but also had a sexually transmitted disease. Both of these statements were untrue. We find that referring to the sexual activities of a [15]-year-old, whether true or not, can be considered lewd or obscene. The post used [Victim’s] full name, so there was no confusion as to who is was directed to. [Defendant] also made the post available not only to her friends, but also friends of friends; thus widening the possible audience. Even though [Defendant] realized her behavior was wrong and took the post down, it had already been viewed by others.”

The lesson here is clear: inappropriate comments on social media can land both kids and adults in criminal trouble, regardless of their truth. And once the bell is rung on the internet, you can’t unring it. Parents would be wise to share this real-life story with their kids – and to heed it for themselves as well.