According to Massachusetts State General Law, Chapter 269, Section 14A, it is illegal to send repeated communications to someone with the intent to annoy the person, punishable be 3 months in a correctional facility and up to $500 in fines. Why would annoyance be illegal only if the communication method is electronic?


Annoyance may be illegal even if it's not done electronically; it just wouldn't be prosecuted under this specific law.

Under Chapter 269, § 14A, it is illegal when a person:

contacts another person by electronic communication ... for the sole purpose of harassing, annoying or molesting the person or the person’s family.

That same law also makes it illegal when a person:

contacts a person repeatedly by electronic communication and uses indecent or obscene language to the person.

But Massachusetts prohibits annoyance in several other contexts, as well:

  • Chapter 265 § 43, the anti-stalking statute, deals with engaging in "a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person which seriously alarms or annoys that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress."
  • Chapter 266 § 37E, the identity-theft statute, covers activity that "seriously alarms or annoys such person or persons and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress."
  • Chapter 268 § 13B uses the same language in prohibiting harassment of jurors, witnesses, etc.
  • Chapter 272 § 43, penalizes "whoever, in or upon a railroad carriage, steamboat or other public conveyance, is disorderly, or disturbs or annoys travelers in or upon the same by profane, obscene or indecent language, or by indecent behavior."
  • Chapter 272 § 53 penalizes "persons who with offensive and disorderly acts or language accost or annoy another person."

Note that these kinds of laws are often interpreted very broadly, so even though a law may exist purporting to govern annoyance, it may still be suspect under First Amendment analysis. An somewhat similar annoyance law in New Jersey was just pared back by the Supreme Court there last year.

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