Online harassment legal advice
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What to do if someone is harassing you on the internet
Victims of online harassment, intimidation, and defamation often feel hopeless and powerless to act. In many instances they feel scared and paralysed.
If someone is harassing you on the internet, or if you have become a victim of an online reputation attack you would naturally consider reporting the harassment to the police. If you have tried to report your attackers to the police, you would have probably been shocked and disappointed to learn that your local police force either was not interested, didn’t understand the problem, or is underfunded and unable to invest time and resources to investigating your case.
Even if your case was investigated, in most cases it would take a very long time for the criminal justice system to come up with any real solution to your problem. Police forces across the UK are not equipped to deal with online harassment and online intimidation, save for exceptional cases where they decide to invest the required resources in helping a particular individual. Very few senior police officers have any understanding of the psychology of the internet, how the internet really works and how online harassers use technologies and techniques to bully and intimidate their victims.
If your local police force agreed to investigate your online harassment case, they would often warn you that the case is likely to take a very long time to investigate. Furthermore, once investigated, a case would have to be made to the Crown Prosecution Service before it could proceed to trial. Often, the investigating officer will find it challenging to obtain the budgets and other resources to pursue a proper, thorough investigation of your online harassment, which may involve obtaining information from organisations that are located outside the jurisdiction, for example in the USA. It would be many months before the courts would deal with the matter, and in the meantime the abusive internet posts are likely to remain in place.
In the case of Sean Duffy, a case which was taken up by the police, it took 18 months to bring a conviction in a fairly straightforward matter of internet harassment and in the case of Paul Britton and the web design company Origin Design, a successful criminal prosecution took place after nearly 2 years, and even then, only because the victim hired a specialist online harassment lawyer, to gather crucial evidence and hand them to the police.
To make matters worse for the online harassment victim, in cases of harassment on the internet, it is questionable whether a criminal court has the power to request that the offender removes the offending posts under a normal restraining order. This is because restraining orders may only require the offender to refrain from taking action as oppose to requiring him or her to take positive action, such as to remove internet pages. Furthermore, if the offender is sent to prison, it is clear that any requirement of him or her to take positive action to remove an offending or harassing webpage is not going to be practical.
It is worth considering taking out a civil injunction for online harassment. A civil injunction is often quicker to obtain and the standard of proof is lower, which means in many cases, it would be easier to obtain a civil injunction for online harassment than wait for the conclusion of a criminal proceedings which might or might not succeed, which could take years to complete.
Often, to secure the removal of harassing webpages from the internet, you will need to apply for a civil injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act. You will then proceed to enforce the harassment injunction directly on the offender and if this is not practical, on the website operators, the hosts of the offending website and on the search engines such as Google and Bing.