Pile-on harassment may soon become a specific criminal offence in the UK
Pile-on harassment is a proposed criminal offence in the UK by the recommendation of the Law Commission. People who harass innocent online victims they don’t even know, could soon face jail.
Pile-on harassment happens when a group of people gang up on an innocent victim with the purpose of causing the victim harassment. Up until recently, pile-on harassment was not considered a criminal act, which means anyone who joined in to bully and harass someone they did not even know, were able to get away with harassment.
Pile-on harassment, sometimes referred to as "dogpiling", is a term commonly used to describe a situation where multiple individuals collectively target and harass a single person, often via social media or other online platforms. It may include excessive negative comments, personal attacks, insults, and ridicule, among other forms of online abuse. The harassment can happen for a multitude of reasons, sometimes triggered by a controversial post or statement made by the individual or simply as an act of cyberbullying without any particular reason. The impact can be particularly harmful due to the volume of harassers involved, making the victim feel overwhelmed and isolated.
Despite the initial perception of this act not being a criminal offence, legislation and policies are increasingly addressing this form of online harassment, in response to the increasing awareness of its psychological damage. Platforms have begun implementing stricter rules and regulations to prevent such actions, and some regions have started to include cyber harassment in their legal frameworks.
Nonetheless, enforcement is challenging due to the anonymous nature of the internet and the difficulty in policing these behaviours. Furthermore, pile-on harassment contributes to a toxic online environment, discourages open dialogue, and can cause significant emotional distress for victims. It's part of a broader societal issue related to internet etiquette, cyberbullying, and the responsibility of digital platforms to ensure a safe environment for their users. Regenerate response
Pile-on harassment typically initiates with one person or a small group targeting an individual with offensive or harmful content. This could be a derogatory comment, an invasive question, an out-of-context quote, a controversial opinion, or even a non-consensual sharing of personal or sensitive information, a practice known as doxing. Once the initial harassment begins, others often join in.
This is where the term "pile-on" originates, as it refers to the rapid accumulation of negative attention, often from people who have little to no relationship with or knowledge of the target. This can quickly escalate into a situation where the targeted individual is facing an onslaught of abuse, which can be psychologically overwhelming and extremely damaging. There are several mechanisms that facilitate pile-on harassment:
- Anonymity: The internet provides a sense of anonymity, allowing harassers to behave in ways they wouldn't in real life. This perceived lack of consequences can embolden individuals to partake in pile-on harassment.
- Echo chambers: On social media platforms, users tend to group with others who share their views, creating echo chambers. Within these groups, pile-on harassment can be perceived as normal or even praiseworthy, which amplifies the effect.
- Virality: The structure of social media platforms allows content to spread quickly and widely. This means that a single negative post or comment about an individual can reach a large number of people in a short time, leading to pile-on harassment.
- Dehumanisation: It's easier to dehumanize others in online interactions. The lack of face-to-face interaction and physical cues can lead people to forget that they're interacting with another human being, making it easier to engage in harsh behaviour.
- Mob mentality: The group dynamic in pile-on harassment can lead to mob mentality, where individuals conform to group behaviour, even if it's harmful or against their better judgement.
While pile-on harassment can happen to anyone, public figures and influencers are particularly vulnerable due to their high visibility online. However, it's important to differentiate between fair criticism or disagreement and harassment. While the former is an essential part of any dialogue, the latter crosses the line into harmful and destructive behaviour.
"Doxing" or "doxxing" is a form of online harassment where individuals' private or sensitive information is publicly disclosed without their consent. This could include their full name, home address, email address, phone number, social security number, or even bank or credit card details. Doxing can have serious, real-world consequences.
By revealing this information, the person who is doxxed becomes vulnerable to various forms of harassment and abuse, including stalking, identity theft, and physical attacks. It can also lead to other types of online abuse, such as hacking or spamming, and can create a hostile environment in which the victim is continually harassed or embarrassed.
The origins of doxing are rooted in hacker culture, where the term originally referred to "document tracing," the practice of obtaining and revealing a person's identity online. Today, doxing is seen as a major breach of online etiquette and privacy and is often considered a form of cyberbullying or online harassment.
In some jurisdictions, doxing can also be illegal, particularly if the intent is to incite harm or harassment. Doxing is particularly dangerous when it becomes a tool in pile-on harassment. A group of harassers can act on the revealed information, amplifying the harm caused to the victim. This can also lead to a cascading effect, where the initially doxxed information leads to the discovery and sharing of even more personal data.
Preventing doxing can be challenging due to the wealth of information available about individuals online. However, individuals can take steps to protect themselves, such as limiting the personal information they share online, using privacy settings on social media, and being cautious about who they share information with.
Currently, there is no specific criminal offence for doxing. However, doxing is a form of harassment and as such is illegal. There are proposals to make doxing a specific criminal offence. But criminal harassment isn't the only criminal offence that those who practice doxing might be committing. In total, anyone in the UK who commit doxing is potentially committing the following wrongdoings:
Harassment: The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 makes it illegal to engage in a course of conduct that amounts to harassment of another person. If doxing is done with the intention to harass or distress the victim, it may be prosecuted under this Act.
Communications Act 2003: This Act makes it illegal to send communications with the intention of causing distress or anxiety. Doxing could potentially fall under this if the information is disclosed in a threatening, abusive, or at least grossly offensive manner.
Malicious Communications Act 1988: This legislation criminalizes the sending of an electronic communication that is indecent or grossly offensive, or which conveys a threat, with the purpose of causing distress or anxiety to the recipient.
Data Protection Act 2018: If someone accesses or shares your personal data without a valid reason and without your consent, it could potentially be an offence under the Data Protection Act.
Computer Misuse Act 1990: If a person gains unauthorized access to someone else's computer to obtain the private information they subsequently dox, it could be considered a violation of the Computer Misuse Act.
Misuse of Private Information: In the context of pile-on harassment, misuse of private information might occur if the harassers distribute private details about their target. This could involve anything from a person's home address, contact details, or financial information, to intimate photos, medical records, or details about their personal relationships. If someone shares this kind of information without the subject's consent and the subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to that information, it may be seen as a misuse of private information under UK law. The courts then have to balance this against any countervailing rights or interests, such as the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. If the court determines that misuse of private information has occurred, the victim may be entitled to remedies. These could include damages (compensation for the harm caused), a privacy injunction (a court order stopping the defendant from continuing their actions), and/or an order requiring the defendant to delete or destroy any relevant materials they hold.
Finally, keep in mind that while you can often report instances of doxing to the platform on which it occurs, legal enforcement can be challenging due to the global nature of the internet and the often-anonymous nature of online harassment.
When you are a victim of doxing, a specialist lawyer or cyber attorney can provide several important services to help stop the harassment, protect your privacy, and potentially take legal action against the offenders. Here's how a lawyer can assist:
Legal Advice: A lawyer can provide guidance on the best course of action based on your specific situation. They can help you understand your rights and the laws that apply, which can vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction the harasser and the individual harassed are in.
Cease and Desist Letters: A lawyer can send a harassment cease and desist letter to the harasser if their identity is known, which may be enough to stop the behaviour. They can also send these letters to the websites or social media platforms where the doxing took place, demanding that the offending content be removed.
Injunctions and Restraining Orders: If the harasser's identity is known, a lawyer can help you apply for an injunction or restraining order to legally prohibit the harasser from continuing their actions. If not, the lawyer would help you obtain a disclosure order from the website operator
Legal Action: If laws have been broken, a lawyer can help you press charges or file a lawsuit against the doxer. This could potentially lead to criminal charges or financial compensation, depending on the circumstances.
Working with Law Enforcement: A lawyer can liaise with law enforcement on your behalf, assisting in the reporting process and ensuring that all relevant evidence is provided. Privacy Protection: A lawyer can provide advice on steps to take to protect your privacy moving forward, potentially working with cyber security experts to ensure your online security.
Negotiation with Internet Service Providers and Platforms: Lawyers can often negotiate more effectively with social media platforms or Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to have your personal information removed.
Support during Legal Process: If the case proceeds to court, a lawyer will represent you, ensuring that your rights are defended and that the case is presented effectively. However, due to the global nature of the internet and often the anonymity of the doxer, pursuing legal remedies in doxing cases can be complex and challenging. Despite the challenges, a specialist lawyer with experience in online harassment cases would be equipped with the expertise to navigate these legal complexities.
Our lawyers at Cohen Davis specialise in this area work and we work closely with victims of online harassment. Our lawyers have deep understanding of both the internet and relevant laws to fight back against these harmful practices. We help victims of doxing by sending cease-and-desist letters, working with law enforcement, initiating litigation if applicable, negotiating with platforms to remove harmful content, and advising our clients on how to better protect their online privacy.
Given the rapidly evolving nature of the internet, this area of law requires constant learning and adaptation. All our lawyers stay up-to-date on new trends, technologies, and laws, and they work to raise awareness about these issues and influence policy where they can.
If you have specific questions about the services Cohen Davis Solicitors provide, you should reach out to them directly or consult their website or other resources for the most accurate and up-to-date information. Regenerate response