I'm Being Harassed on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter; What Are My Legal Options?
Cyber-bullying has become a very big problem in America, and it is not just limited to children. Every day, thousands of people have to contend with negative, abusive, insulting, and threatening comments posted on, or linked to, their social media accounts. This has left many to wonder if there is anything they can do – from a legal standpoint – to protect themselves.
If the abusive conduct happens on a social site like Facebook or Instagram, it may be possible to notify the site owners. Many social sites now offer the option to block individuals and report spam or abusive comments. Done enough times, this can actually cause the person's profile to be locked and, in some cases, the site may ban their IP from visiting in the future.
If the abuse takes place outside of the social site, but points back to it, it may be possible to alert the owners of that site to the abusive conduct, as well. Most websites do not want to get caught up in a dispute between two parties that could result in negative press, lawsuits, or other legal consequences. As a result, they will often delete the offending material at once.
Unfortunately, not every dispute can be handled with simple requests to site owners. Either the harassing party persists in their efforts, the website fails or refuses to take action, or the harassing party makes a threat that cannot be taken lightly (such as a threat of violence). In these cases, it may be necessary to contact law enforcement.
However, as this is a new and emerging threat, many states have yet to enact laws to adequately address the problem. Many law enforcement agencies are similarly ill equipped to do anything about the conduct, and may simply issue a report but take little or no further action. This has led to unfortunate situations in a number of well-publicized cases where people either took their own lives under the pressure of the bullying or were harmed by the harasser after law enforcement failed to take action.
This has led to more jurisdictions investigating the possibility of enacting laws to regulate this conduct. Progress on this type of legislation has been slow, but it will likely continue to proliferate as social media remains an ever present part of our lives.
A third option in the case of cyber-bullying and online harassment is a civil action. Filing a lawsuit may seem an extreme measure to some, but it may be the only way to protect children or even one's self in extreme circumstances.
There are a number of viable legal theories that may apply. These might include libel (writing false statements that harm someone's reputation), interference with business relationships, intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, or a number of other possible claims. An attorney will probably be necessary in order to determine the most appropriate course of action when filing a lawsuit. Using HG.org's legal provider search service is a great way to identify a potential attorney to help you with your case.
Remember that you do not necessarily have to limit your lawsuit just to the person harassing you. In many cases it may be possible to pursue claims against websites that publish inappropriate, slanderous, or threatening comments and refuse to take them down. Given these companies' deeper pockets and great ability to prevent the improper conduct from occurring, they may be a very viable target for legal action, making it possible to recover more for your damages than you will spend on your legal fees.
Take it Seriously and Remember You Are Not Alone
No matter what happens, it is important to take online harassment and cyber-bullying very seriously. Countless people have now been humiliated, intimidated, and taken advantage of thanks to modern social media. If someone you know is a victim of these activities, it is important to take it very seriously. If you are the victim, remember that you are not alone and that there are already ways for you to fight back and more will become available in the near future. Report the inappropriate conduct to website owners and law enforcement, take legal action if warranted, but always be sure to protect yourself and your loved ones first.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
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