The US Department of Justice has charged six former workers of eBay Inc. with cyberstalking and witness tampering over an online harassment campaign they are alleged to have launched against a woman blogger in Massachusetts. The federal crime of cyberbullying involves, among other things, harassing a person by means of a computer that causes emotional distress to that person.
According to an affidavit filed by the FBI in respect of two of the accused, the six employees appear to have been motivated to ensure that the woman’s reputation and business prospects were harmed. They are alleged to have established a plan to “take her down.” To operationalize that plan, they allegedly began sending anonymous negative messages and posting negative content directed at her on social media, calling her a “bitch”, among other things. They also allegedly threatened to show up at locations where they knew she would be located, and stalked her offline as well as online, for a number of weeks.
In a private social media channel, the eBay workers allegedly shared screenshots of her and of their activities so that they were kept up to speed on their harassment activities, and allegedly were proud of the damage their conduct was having on her. They then came up with a plan to embarrass her in her sphere of influence.
According to the FBI, the harassers became more aggressive and looked into the woman’s personal information, which they shared among each other in the private social media channel and then posted online. They allegedly created an anonymous twitter account with a picture of a skull as the account profile to use to send tweets to the victim, which the FBI says was done to intimidate her.
The harassers allegedly were aware that their online harassment was distressing the victim but they kept going anyway, and even sent her items in the mail.
They then are alleged to have created a file to report her to the police, having no evidence at all that she had committed a crime. The FBI affidavit states, in summary, that they worked on the creation of non-substantiated facts to create a report to falsely report her to the police, while they themselves were committing the cyberstalking crimes against her on Twitter and on other social media platforms as a way to harm her, and also so that if she reported the conduct to the police, they would have a fake justification for their actions.
The FBI says that when the six former employees learned that the victim had informed law enforcement of what was happening to her, they deleted their communications in the private social media channel, and wiped their phones to obstruct a federal investigation and obstruct justice.
The alleged stalking and online hate began in April 2019 and became a police matter shortly thereafter. According to the filings, a significant amount of IP investigations work was conducted to tie the online activity to the owners of the computers and devices used to send the anonymous online content, log in to the private social media channel and log in to social media platforms.
The defendants, James Baugh, David Harville, Stephanie Popp, Brian Gilbert, Stephanie Stockwell and Veronica Zea, if convicted, face a term of imprisonment of up to five years for the cyberstalking charges, twenty years for witness tampering, and an additional five years for conspiracy in respect of the harassing conduct and witness tampering.
eBay terminated the employees, but is likely to be held liable as a civil matter to the victim because the harassment occurred on company time, using the resources of eBay, including its email system, its Internet, company iPhones and company computers. By all accounts, the employer was not monitoring the activities of these employees, or trusted them too much. The employer is also likely to be held liable for economic damages for intentional interference with the woman’s business.
It’s possible that more charges may flow. If they made a statement to the police about the victim, filed a police report or aided or abetted someone else to file an unsubstantiated false police report, they may be subject to imprisonment on conviction of making a false statement to a federal investigator. The employer, eBay, is also likely to take action for the use of its corporate resources to commit the alleged crimes.