How to take legal action for cyberbullying
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What are the legal options when being cyberbullied
If you're experiencing the pain and isolation of cyberbullying, you might be asking, what legal option are available to you to bring the cyberbullying to an end. This case study tells the story of our client who was facing cyberbullying online.
Our client Peter (not his real name) became a victim of cyberbullying after someone with whom he had fallen out, began publishing comments and articles about him. These articles related to events which took place 15 years earlier and which resulted in Peter’s company going into liquidation. The harasser still felt aggrieved because he was owed a small sum of money by the company which the administrators shut down. The harasser kept feeding the internet with accusations about Peter and eventually came to the realisation that the company going into liquidation was an inevitable event.
Over time, the harasser intensified her attacks. Having received no reaction for a while, she escalated her cyberbullying activities and at one point created social media accounts, which impersonated Peter. She then reached out to Peter’s social media contacts and sent them links to her posts about him. She also approached Peter’s family, including his spouse alleging that Peter was a fraud. Her harassing posts were now published on various platforms such as Yell and Facebook. Having reached out to those platforms to no avail, Peter has decided to contact a firm of lawyers who specialises in cyberbullying.
When Peter approach our firm, he was very nervous and had very little hope that we will be able to help. His main questions surrounded the legal options around cyberbullying. We explained to Peter that the law provides a number of options for someone who had suffered at the hands of a cyberbully. One option included reporting the cyberbullying to the police as a form of harassment. Harassment can happen online or offline and provided the harasser was intending to cause Peter distress, the ongoing acts by the harasser would constitute harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act and/or under s5 Public Order Act.
The other legal option that is available to individuals who are being cyber-bullied is to file a claim for harassment in the High Court, which would be considered a civil claim, because harassment is both, civil and criminal wrongdoing. So, even if the police are unhelpful for whatever reason, the victim of cyberbullying can still take action against the harasser but instead of taking the legal action in the criminal court, he can do so in a civil court, where police assistance is not necessary.
Civil law legal avenues often offer a more streamlined resolution to cyberbullying victims, especially when it comes to restraining orders or emergency harassment injunctions. These can sometimes materialise within a short span, avoiding the long wait of a criminal court hearing. In complex harassment cases like that of Peter, a civil law legal claim can encompass multiple facets: privacy breaches, defamation and the misuse of private information. A criminal law legal avenue, on the other hand, will often be limited to harassment. Defamation and breach of data are civil wrongdoings, meaning they cannot be handled by the criminal justice system.
Furthermore, with criminal law, the victim has little influence over the process and the outcome of the matter. The police or the Crown Prosecution Service can discontinue the case at any time with very little regard to the victim’s view of the matter. Whilst the criminal route to resolve cyberbullying is free, often a civil legal approach will require the involvement of lawyers. This isn't necessarily a negative aspect of it because the harasser will also need to consider whether it is worth her while to continue with the cyberbullying in a situation where it is starting to cost her a significant amount of money to do so, mainly in legal fees.
If you are being cyber-bullied, you might want to take the following steps as a precaution. First, seek legal advice from harassment lawyers. Do this before rushing into any other action because the solicitor you are speaking to should have a great deal of experience in handling similar situation, allowing him to give you advice specific to your situation. Until you seek advice, keep a low online profile. If you have fears that the cyberbully will contact your associates, you might want to suspend your social media accounts, at least until you seek legal advice.
Finally, it is worth considering speaking to the police about the cyberbullying as soon as possible as this might result in the police handing a harassment notice to the cyber bully, which often serves to put an end to the cyberbullying. In the case of our client Peter, we advised him to rigorously collect and preserve all pertinent evidence to ensure they are not being deleted before any law enforcement intervention.
The best course of action, in the event that you are being cyber-bullied is to collect evidence and seek urgent legal advice. In our client Peter’s case, we advised him that as the cyberbullying was so severe and as the police seemed to be uninterested in helping him, to begin the process of obtaining an injunction against his harasser.
In Peter’s case, the relevant factors warranted an application for an emergency injunction as matters dramatically deteriorated by the time our lawyers became involved. Given the aggressive persistence displayed by the harasser, we felt confident in this approach. However, every case is different and must be considered on its own merits as injunction applications to prevent cyberbullying could be complex.
From the very moment I was briefed on Peter's situation, I was consumed by a mix of empathy and determination. Here was an individual whose professional and personal life had been thrown into disarray due to relentless and unwarranted online harassment. The challenge was not only the severity of the harassment but also the layers of complexities involved. The online world, while offering various avenues to connect, also presents countless platforms where malicious intent can be spread far and wide.
In Peter's case, the harasser was shrewd, using multiple platforms and methods to target him. Trying to convince platforms like Facebook and Yell to intervene proved frustrating, as they often remained non-responsive or required exhaustive proofs. The additional challenge lay in proving the harasser's intent, tracing the impersonated accounts back to her, and ensuring the preservation of crucial evidence. While the path was laden with obstacles, I was resolute in utilising every legal avenue available to bring justice to Peter.
Case studies are based on true cases where names, dates and circumstances have often been amended to protect the identity of those involved.