Interesting article in Texas Lawyer this week about the effect of online impersonation having growing relevance in Texas family law. People are increasingly impersonating spouses, paramours, and others online out of spite or to gain leverage. In 2009, Texas made it illegal to pretend to be another person online to harass, stalk, or defraud someone. For example, it would be illegal to create a fake website in an ex’s name and provide personal details about sexual acts. The law says a person commits an offense if he or she, without obtaining the person’s consent, uses the name or persona of another person with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten by (1) creating a page on a website or other commercial social networking site, or (2) sending messages through an existing website or social networking site. This offense is a third degree felony, punishable by 2-10 years in prison.

Distinguish these two scenarios, one illegal and one not. In the first, a husband learns that his wife frequents online dating sites and communicates with another man. In an effort to prove her guilty of cheating and to gain an advantage in the divorce, husband creates a facebook page as the other man, exports a picture of the man and puts it onto the page. Then, acting as the other man, the husband has a dialog with wife about getting together. This is illegal. On the other hand, consider that husband creates a website called “thisguyisahomewrecker”, posts the picture of the man and details the affair. The husband is not impersonating the man, but merely exercising free speech about the conduct. Assuming that the accusations are true so no defamation suit is viable, this conduct is not illegal.