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Defamation and social media law in the UK

Defamation and social media law in the UK

Social media and internet law in the UK

In the UK, internet law is not yet recognised as a distinct field of law. Most law firms which practice matters concerning the internet, do so through their other legal departments, such as litigation, media or dispute resolution.

Internet law as a unique legal field

Common internet law phrases

Internet law as a unique legal field

Despite the fact that internet law comprises various aspects of the legal profession, there are some unique characteristics to work which is published, disseminated or being carried out on the internet. The technology which is involved with internet law work, the cross border nature of the work and the high degree of uncertainties as to jurisdiction and enforcement, require special knowledge and understanding of the internet, which a lawyer who specialises in general litigation or general commercial law, is unlikely to possess.

Common internet law phrases

In internet law, you will often come across words and phrases which either have a special meaning when it comes to a conversation about the internet, or that are completely new to anyone who doesn’t practice internet law. Below are some of the most commonly used terms in the context of internet law. You might find this special terminology repeated elsewhere on our website. Understanding this special language should assist you in understanding some of the issues that you might be facing online, their origins and perhaps the way to resolve them.

Google AdWords Advertising

Google AdWords Advertising is Google's advertising programme, where someone pays rent to Google to secure a prominent position in the search results for their website or blog. The payment to Google is made only when someone clicks on the advert. In the context of internet defamation, internet harassment and breach privacy, there have been cases where a competitor or a disgruntled party, had carried out a Google AdWords Advertising campaign for the exclusive purpose of promoting defamation. sending visitors to a defamatory webpage. A well-known case is the case of Lindsey-Goldrick Dean who had been harassed online for 13 years where he harasser, Paul Curran used Google AdWords advertising campaign to refer internet users to harassing webpages which he created about her. Google AdWords is often used by competitors to pass off goods and services. By using their competitors trademark name to attract visitors to their own websites. An internet use who searches for a particular brand, might be mislead by an advert appearing on the search results, believing it to be the brand she was looking for. If you were to raise a compliant to Google about breach of your trademark, it could take an average of two months for Google to deal with your complaint.

Algorithms

Algorithms are the formulas search engines use to decide which internet pages to display in response to a particular search query. Naturally, these formulas are very secretive and search engine companies such as Google and Bing work hard to constantly change them, with the aim of achieving greater accuracy between the query and the corresponding search results. The more we know about an algorithm the better we can fix internet defamation and trademark issues on the internet.

Anchor Text Links

Anchor Text Links are words or sentences which are programmed to take you to another internet page or to a bookmark on the same page. Anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink. It is something of a shortcut. For example, Internet Law Expert. In the context of internet defamation, anchor text links might be used to associate a individuals or company with unpleasant phrases.

Defamation by innuendo

Defamation by innuendo is the most difficult form of internet defamation to prove. It involves the creation of presumptions and negative associations, as opposed to straightforward words that are clearly defamatory of someone. Defamation by innuendo involves the association of individuals and companies with wrongdoings which might have nothing to do with them. It is the use of an inuendo that creates suspicion in the mind of the reader who is invited and almost compelled, to come to his own conclusions.

Under English law, you can defame someone by an innuendo, which means that the words used to describe that defame person, or his activities, are far less important than the actual meaning of the words. In other words, English law places emphasis on the meaning of the words and their context rather than on their literal meaning.

Online anonymity

At the centre of online anonymity is the concept, or the value of free expression. The idea that everyone should be able to express their view without fear of retaliation has made the use of pseudonyms on the internet very common. Online anonymity is particularly supported by advocates of unconditional freedom of speech on the internet. Victims of internet defamation and harassment often argue that anonymity on the internet comes at the expense of social and personal accountability.

Anonymity makes it very difficult for individuals and companies to properly address accusations and allegations against them, and it is believed to be costing UK businesses a great deal of money every year. It is possible to overcome the issue of anonymous posting online by making applications for disclose orders which compel internet service providers and website operators to disclose the identity of an internet user who chose online anonymity over transparency and who has used this privilege to harass or defame somebody else.

Black Hat SEO

Black hat search engine optimisation, or black hat SEO is a term which refers to attempts to improve the ranking of a web page in the search results in ways that are disapproved of by the search engines or that involve deception. A popular black hat technique involves the use of text that is hidden, often disguised as text in a colour similar to the background of the webpage so it is unseen to the naked eye, to deceive the search engine that the webpage is focused on a specific subject matter.

Another method provides the searcher with different pages, depending on whether the page is being requested by a human visitor or a search engine. Black hat search engine optimisation is often used to create internet defamation and to make it more difficult for the identity of the defamer to be detected.

Internet Blackmail

Blackmail on the internet can take different forms. The most common form consists of demands by web site owners, many of whom are in Eastern Europe, for payments and/or "arbitration fees" in return for the removal of defamatory contents, or for the removal of a private video or a photograph published on the internet. Internet blackmail thrives on dating websites where the innocent party is led to believe that it is in a relationship with a trusted individual who then threatens to post online conversations or private images on the internet unless they are paid ransom. Payment is normally made by PayPal.

Blog Posts

Blog posts are articles posted on the internet on a blog, which is a mini-website that is very easy to use. You can acquire as many free blogs as you want without having to give away any of your personal details. This makes blogs an attractive forum for internet defamation.

Blog Swarm

Blog Swarm is a technique used to increase the speed and spread of internet defamation. The defamer (or a group of them) commences an internet attack on a company or person who has agitated them. Imagine a swarm of Africanized honeybees (aka killer bees) swarming an unsuspecting victim who has agitated them by entering their territory, thus threatening their safety and way of life.

It is possible for one single person to create a blog swarm effect over a fairly short period of time, causing the victim to feel as if they are being attacked by a large mob.

Pile-on Harassment

Pile-on harassment is the latest version of the blog swarm. Since blogs have become less popular as a venue for online social gathering, social media and online discussion forum have replaced them. Pile-on harassment is similar to Blog Swarm, just that the activity is carried out on social media or on an online discussion forum.

In pile-on harassment a group of an online discussion forum gangs up on an innocent victim who, in their view, might have said the wrong thing or have expressed an unpopular opinion.

Cease and Desist Letter

A cease and desist letter is a letter requesting a party to stop infringing the innocent party’s legal rights. In the context of internet defamation a cease and desist letter is a formal letter informing its recipient of the presence of defamatory material on a website which is under their control. The letter must be written in full compliance with the Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation Claims as issued by the Ministry of Justice. The cease and desist letter is a significant legal document because it will be used as evidence of knowledge of the presence of defamatory material on the internet.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright Infringement happens online very often, sometimes deliberately and other times innocently. Either way, copyright infringement would attract legal liability. In the context of internet defamation may take the form of a defamer using the victim's company logos, photographs, unique business name, and content for the purpose of defaming them on the internet.

Sometimes, it is advisable to facilitate the removal of defamation from the internet by using copyright law rather than defamation law. A useful software that helps identity copyright infringement on the internet Copyscape.

Copyscape is a computer programme that helps identify instances of plagiarism on the internet. It lets you see where else your copy appears on the internet. Often this helps to identify instances of internet defamation, as well as breaches of copyright.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a form of verbal bullying on the internet against an individual or a company. It takes the form of cruel words, threats, and other methods to cause great anxiety to the victim. Cyberbullying is a form of harassment and it could be handled by the police in the UK or by brining civil legal proceedings against the cyberbullies. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to prove an intention to harass cyberbullying could be carried out innocently, or at least without a specific intention to cause the victim harassment and distress.

Domain Name

A Domain Name is a series of alphanumeric strings separated by periods, such as www.smco.com. Once a domain name is pointed to a website, that website will carry the name of that domain. In the context of internet defamation, the right domain names are supremely important to create and own, and they and can also help defend against internet defamation.

A good domain name will use the most desired search terms to reflect the products or the services that you present on your website. Victims of an internet defamation attack can sometimes successfully remove defamatory web pages from the first pages of the search results by creating websites and blogs with similar domain names, which will then populate the search engine results.

E-Lynching

E-Lynching refers to the actions of a group of people against an individual or a company when the actions are intended to ruin the victim's reputation. The group will normally gang up on the victim by spreading articles, blog posts and forum comments over the internet, all of which intend to create the false impression that there is a large vocal group of unhappy customers who want to exercise their right of free speech to expose the alleged wrongdoing by the victim. Occasionally, as part of e-lynching, the group will set up forums and populate them with defamation and hate. E-lynching may often result in personal and commercial devastation to the victim, as well as increasing their level of stress and anxiety.

Google Bomb

Google Bomb is a practice of artificially raising the page rank of a web page so that Google starts considering the page important. There are many variations of Google bombs, in the same way that there are endless types of a real road bomb.

Google Sandbox

Google sandbox is an unofficial index where Google places a newly discovered website until it can verify that the website is legitimate. While websites are in the sandbox, they will not appear in search results for normal search queries. Once Google verifies that a site is legitimate, it will move the site into the regular index.

In the context of internet defamation, the "sandbox effect" might provide victims of internet defamation with a window of opportunity to facilitate the removal of a defamatory web page before it starts to appear in normal search results. If you discover through an early warning system the existence of a defamatory web page, you should assume that this web page will start ranking higher in search results once it has been moved out of the Google sandbox and appears in the normal search results.

Impersonation Attack

An Impression Attack might happen when an impressionist uses a victim company's goodwill to defraud the public by advertising themselves as the real thing. The impressionist will normally use a domain name similar to that owned and used by the victim, and they will offer to sell products and services to the public by using the goodwill of the victim. Occasionally the impressionist may post on their website derogatory content about the victim in order to harm the victim's commercial interests and credit. Early detection is crucial to minimise damage to the victim’s reputation.

This can be achieved by using an alert service or by using internet reputation management services. An impersonation attack could affect companies of any size. The perpetrators, who are often located in China, create a copycat fraudulent website where unsuspecting customer deposit funds or pay for goods or services that will never be delivered to them. The victim is often end up with complaints and demands for refund by angry customers who had paid into the fraudulent bank account. Victims of impersonation attacks include investment banking companies, commodity traders, foreign exchange providers and companies who operate high value sale platforms. If your company has become the victim of an impersonation attack, seek legal advice as swiftly as you possibly can, as it could take some time before you will be able to completely shut down the fraudulent website.

Page Rank

Page Rank refers to the importance Google gives to each web page. Page rank is calculated by using a secret formula that results in higher-ranked web pages being given higher places in search results. If a defamatory web page contains a link from a high page-rank web site, the defamatory page will automatically have its own page rank improved. Conversely, you can improve the page rank of a legitimate web page by having other pages with a high page rank link to it.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a primarily online phenomenon in which an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicising the information more widely. If there had been defamatory post online about you but the with limited publication or exposure, you will be advised to consider the impact of taking the case to court because by doing so, you will inevitably create additional publication to the information which is defamatory of you. In the context of advising on internet defamation, court proceedings for defamation may backfire on the claimant by supplying daily or periodic information to enhance the Streisand effect.

Website Liability Immunity

Website Liability Immunity Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives American-based internet service providers immunity from a lawsuit in relation to defamatory content published on their internet platforms. Some argue that this makes the US a safe haven for internet defamation. However, this immunity is not complete, and in some cases, it can be overcome, either by using local laws or by commencing proceedings in another suitable jurisdiction.

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