An essential guide to social media online harassment
If you are are a victim of social media harassment and are considering filing a claim against someone who you feel is harassing you online, you must act now or as fast as possible. There are two particular paths to consider upon making a claim for online harassment, via the courts or through complaints to the police.
If someone is making it their mission to make your life miserable with online harassment, causing your life disruption and upset to you and to your loved ones, it is your duty to yourself to learn what to do if you are harassed online and it is within your legal right to do something about it, as this behaviour should not be tolerated.
If you are a victim of social media harassment, sooner of later, the campaign will come to your attention. It might come to your attention when you carry out a Google search for your name or when your harasser sends you some sort of notification of posts that they had created about you or social media, or it might be that a friend or a member of family brought the social media harassment campaign to your attention.
Online harassment may take a variety of forms. Often, if you feel harassed or distressed because of someone else’ unwanted, repetitive behaviour towards you, it is likely that you are indeed being harassed. People who are bring harassed, just know it.
Harassment, more often than not, is in the eyes of the beholder, or more precisely, the victim. Often the behaviour is repetitive, causing a disruption to the victim’s daily life and lifestyle, creating fears and paranoia and a lot of uncertainty. Online harassment can be occurring though the posting of profanity, by following you on social media, by regularly commenting on your movements and posts, by following your career and your daily life, by providing commentary and opinion on your various choices, by recording your activities online, by making screenshots and republishing your posts, by contacting your friends and associates with complaints about you or with so called disclosures about you and about your life.
There is a lot that the police can do to help you stop social media harassment. It is a criminal offence to harass an individual whether online or in person. The police understand that there is a civil law procedure as well as criminal, which may cause reluctance on the part of the police to seriously investigate the matter. Unfortunately, the police often rely on the victim of the harassment to gather evidence and to pursue the harasser via the civil courts. In too many cases, the police has refused to pursue cases for online harassment despite being presented with ample evidence by the harassed individual and their lawyers.
Timing is an important factor when you are seeking legal action for harassment. There are several reasons why it is important to act without delay. For example, often your anxiety and distress would increase over time, making your judgment less clear due to the nature of the online harassment you might be experiencing. Speed is also important in terms of preserving evidence and the ability to obtain an emergency harassment injunction against your harasser or the social media platform that facilitate the harassing conduct.
If you are being harassed online, you have several options available to you to try and stop the social media harassment campaign.
The civil law route provides for a two-stage approach. First, to issue your harasser with a cease and desist letter, or with a harassment notice, to explain the impact of the harassing actions on you and to leave the harasser in do doubt as to their legal position and as to the consequences of their harassing activities.
The harassment notice will often include a harassment warning to your harasser to stop contacting you, posting about you or communicating with you directly and indirectly. However, if the harassment persists, you should consider pursuing court action as quickly as possible under the Protection from Harassment Act.
If your case of social media harassment does go to court, you would want the court to help you conclude it as quickly as possible. You will need to convince the court and emphasise the urgency of the case and the need for a restraining order, or an emergency online harassment injunction to be granted to you at the first court hearing.
You will then want to enforce the injunction against your harasser and against anyone who is facilitating the harassing activity. If you are late in taking the matter to court, there is a risk that the court will not agree that the matter is urgent any longer. The consequence of this could be that you will not be granted an injunction for some time. This, however, does not mean that your online harasser can continue to harass you.
It is not always possible to obtain an injunction to protect you from social media harassment right away. Some cases have been concluded within days, whilst other took many months before attaining a successful outcome. It is important to speak to a specialist solicitor who will be able to advise you on the speed by which you could obtain an injunction to protect you from social media harassment, and of any legal issues that you could be facing along the way.
If you have decided to let the police handle your social media harassment case, it will be for the police, or the Crown Prosecution Service, to convince the court beyond reasonable doubt that the action by your harasser towards you were in fact harassing and that your harasser intended to cause you distress through their harassing conduct.
However, if you chose to have a lawyer taking your online harassment case to a civil court, the court will only need to be convinced that it was more likely than not that you were being harassed. This is a much lower standard of proof than the one required by a criminal court, which means you are much more likely to succeed with your claim for harassment. Whether the harassment has occurred online or has been happening in real life physically, it does not mean your case cannot be dealt with in an efficient way. You do need to be aware, however, that a defendant might have a defence to any claim that you might decide to bring for social media harassment and again, you should seek legal advice before commencing legal proceedings against your harasser.
The law is here to protect you from these individuals who seek out to make your life miserable and for whatever reason want to cause you aggravation. It does not matter who the individual is, for example your ex-partner, or a stranger, online harassment law in the UK, and particularly, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is there to provide a shield. The criminal court, however, has a duty to ensure that individuals are not being convicted of harassment, unless it is proven beyond any reasonable doubt that they are guilty of the offence.
The civil court has no such obligation and therefore is more likely to take your side. You should of course always consider first the least expensive way to bring a campaign of online harassment against you to a speedy end. If the harassment does not stop and is persistent despite the various warnings and letters which have been issued, court action might be the only way for you to regain control over your life. You should be reassured in this case, if your case were to go as far as to court, provided your evidence is concrete and your lawyer prepares the facts to prove the defendant is guilty, you are more likely to win the case.