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Harassing website legal advice

What to do if someone creates a harassing website about you

If you're experiencing the pain and distress of harassment through a hate website, you might be wondering what legal options are available to you to put an end to it. First and foremost, please know that your feelings are valid, and you don't have to face this challenge alone. The internet can sometimes seem like a lawless frontier, but there are legal provisions designed to protect individuals like you. This case study may shed light on the legal avenues you can pursue.

Table of content

Harassment through a hate website

How can a lawyer help with harassment through a hate website

What to do if you are harassed on a website

What is the difference between civil action and criminal action in relation to harassment

Lawyer’s thoughts about the case

Harassment through a hate website

Our client, Tom (not his real name), became a victim of harassment after someone she had a falling out with started a hate website targeting her. The posts on this website related to events that took place nearly 20 years ago, which led to Tom being accused of misconduct in her profession. The harasser, who felt wronged due to a personal grievance, kept feeding the website with defamatory content about Tom.

Despite the events being in the distant past, the harasser could not let go of their perceived hurt. Over time, the harasser intensified their attacks, creating fake social media profiles to share links to the hate website with Tom's colleagues and family, alleging false accusations. The harassment included not only false statements but also private and partially true events distorted to cause maximum distress. Tom's attempts to have the website and the false social media accounts taken down were unsuccessful, leading her to seek legal assistance.

How can a lawyer help with harassment through a hate website

When Tom approached our firm, he was extremely anxious and doubtful that we could help. Her main concerns revolved around the legal options available for dealing with harassment. We explained that the law offers several options for someone suffering from harassment, including reporting the harassment to the police.

Online harassment intended to cause distress falls under the Protection from Harassment Act and/or Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Another option for individuals facing harassment through hate websites is to file a civil claim for harassment in the High Court.

Harassment is both a civil and criminal wrongdoing, so even if the police are unhelpful, the victim can still take legal action in a civil court. This allows the victim to pursue remedies such as injunctions and damages without relying on police intervention.

What to do if you are harassed on a website

In Tom's case, although the harasser was posting anonymously, we were able to track the hate website back to her. Our in-house Open Source Intelligence team identified her through the unique language patterns she used on the hate website, which were similar to those on her personal Facebook account (unrelated to the hate website). By analysing these patterns and other associations, we pinpointed her location and workplace.

We also established that she owned the hate website, despite using a pseudonym to register the domain name. Our team meticulously gathered evidence, which involved comparing the language used in the hate website posts with the harasser’s posts on various social media platforms. The distinctive style and recurring phrases provided a linguistic fingerprint that pointed back to her.

We also examined other digital breadcrumbs, such as the timing of posts and interactions with certain online communities, which further corroborated our findings. By tracing her online activity, we were able to map out her connections and identify her place of residence and employment. The harasser was working as a consultant for a major financial institution, and this professional role was key to our strategy. We collected irrefutable evidence linking her to the hate website, despite her attempts to conceal her identity by using a pseudonym for the domain registration. With this comprehensive dossier of evidence, we approached the harasser. The confrontation was carefully planned to ensure she understood the gravity of her actions and the legal implications.

We presented the evidence in a formal communication to the harasser, highlighting the potential for legal action for harassment if the hate website was not taken down immediately. Faced with the overwhelming evidence and the prospect of a legal battle that could jeopardise her professional standing and personal reputation, The harasser decided to take down the hate website. The legal communications made it clear that her continued harassment could result in severe legal consequences, including financial penalties and a permanent injunction. Following our intervention and the removal of the hate website, the harasser, as often is the case following our intervention, realised that the situation had reached a point where further resistance was futile.

The potential damage to her career and personal life outweighed any satisfaction she might have gained from continuing the harassment. She acknowledged that it was in her best interest to cease her activities and move on. Our client was overjoyed with the outcome. After enduring over a decade of relentless harassment and the persistent shadow of false allegations on the hate website, he was finally able to reclaim his peace of mind and move forward with his life. The resolution of this case not only provided immediate relief but also restored his confidence in the legal system's ability to address online harassment effectively.

What is the difference between civil action and criminal action in relation to harassment

Civil legal avenues for harassment cases often provide a more streamlined resolution, especially for obtaining restraining orders or emergency injunctions. These measures can be implemented quickly, avoiding the lengthy wait times of criminal court hearings, in complex cases like Tom's, a civil legal claim can address multiple issues, including privacy breaches, defamation, and the misuse of private data.

Criminal legal avenues are typically limited to harassment and breaches of privacy. Defamation and data misuse are civil wrongs and cannot be addressed through the criminal justice system. Additionally, in criminal cases, the victim has limited control over the process and outcome. The police or Crown Prosecution Service can discontinue the case at any time, regardless of the victim’s views. While pursuing criminal action is free, civil legal action for harassment usually requires hiring lawyers, which can be a deterrent for the harasser, as they also face significant legal costs.

In Tom's case, neither civil nor criminal legal action was required. A high-quality investigation, meticulous gathering of evidence, and an effective cease-and-desist letter, which clearly set out the law, the wrongdoing, and the consequences of her unlawful harassing actions, proved sufficient.

Many harassers are either unaware that their activities on hate websites are unlawful, or they know but are complacent, believing they are untouchable by their vulnerable victims. Thinking outside the box sometimes means that our clients don't have to spend as much time and money or engage in speculative court cases. By understanding who the perpetrator is, having a solid grasp of the law, and gathering effective evidence, including using an element of surprise when approaching the harasser when they least expect it, and showing them they have a lot to lose, we can often resolve the issue more effectively. This approach can be far more efficient in terms of time, cost, and distress to our client than pursuing criminal or civil legal action.

Lawyer’s thoughts about the case

From the moment I was briefed on Tom's situation, I felt a mix of empathy and determination. There was an individual whose life had been upended by relentless and unjust harassment through a hate website. The challenge was not only the severity of the harassment but also the complex layers involved.

While offering various ways to connect, the online world also provides platforms where malicious content can spread widely. In Tom's case, the harasser was cunning, using multiple platforms and methods to target her. Convincing platforms to intervene was frustrating and often required extensive proof. The additional challenge lay in proving the harasser's intent, tracing the false accounts, and preserving crucial evidence. Despite the obstacles, I was resolute in utilising every legal avenue to bring justice to Tom. Furthermore, hate websites can be taken down, although it may be too late for a defamation case.

However, harassment law allows you to take action even if the content is based on true events or partially true events, as long as the publication aims to harass and cause distress. This is our speciality—taking down hate websites related to historic events or wrongdoings. If you're experiencing the pain and isolation of cyberbullying, you might be asking, what legal options are available to you to bring the cyberbullying to an end. First and foremost, please know that your feelings are valid, and you don't have to face this challenge alone. The internet can sometimes seem like a lawless frontier, but there are legal provisions designed to protect individuals like you. This case study may shed light on the legal avenues you can pursue.

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