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Online harms 3 – what do I do if I’m being harassed or bullied online?

The proliferation of social media platforms has seen a rise in cyber-bullying. Online bullying and harassment has become an increasing problem and its damaging effect on mental health is widely publicised. This briefing considers what you can do if you are being harassed or bullied online.

This is Part 3 of the Online Harms Briefing series.  To read Part 1 on the new duty of care on businesses to tackle online harms, please click here.  To read Part 2 on what to do if your private or confidential information is shared online without your consent, please click here.

If you would like further information or advice on anything discussed in these briefings, please contact Cheryl Gayer.

How to get abusive content taken down

Online bullying and harassment is likely to violate the rules and policies of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.  These platforms have mechanisms on their websites for users to report abusive behaviour such as bullying and harassment.

For instance, Twitter has a specific online form for users to report harassment, threats of violence and hate speech.  Facebook has an icon at the top right of each post which allows users to click Report Post and select the option describing how the post breaches Facebook’s Community Standards. These companies can remove harmful content from their platforms and suspend the publishers’ accounts.

If the harmful content is accessible on Google Search, Google has a general Reporting and Removal Request Form that can be used to request the removal of such content.  If your private and confidential information is being shared maliciously as a means of harassing or intimidating you, Google has a specific Removal Request Function that can be used to request the removal of such content.

If you are harassed by email, your email provider may have an online mechanism for submitting complaints.  For instance, Google has an online form which allows Gmail users to report other Gmail users for violating Gmail Program Policies and / or Terms of Use. Google may disable Gmail accounts found to be in violation of its policies.

It is a good idea to save copies of the harmful content before pursuing take-down procedures.

How to seek compensation or an injunction

You may be able to sue the publisher of the abusive content under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (the Act).  You would need to show that:

a) the online messages have caused you alarm and distress amounting to harassment under the Act

b) there are at least two instances of harassment carried out in sequence so as to establish a “course of conduct” under the Act; and

c) the course of conduct is one which the publisher knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of another.

The threshold for proving harassment under the Act is high and the conduct causing alarm and distress must be shown to be oppressive and unacceptable, and not simply unattractive or unreasonable.

Your potential remedies include an injunction restraining further communication / contact / publication, an order requiring the harmful content to be taken down and damages.

Criminal prosecution

If the abusive communications are causing you to fear for your safety then you may need to report the matter to the police.  Abusive communications sent via social media may amount to a criminal offence under the Act, the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003.

The Law Commission has launched a consultation on abusive and offensive online communications and we can expect to see further consultations launched this year on proposed legislation to tackle cyber-flashing, glorification of violence and self-harm, sharing intimate images without consent and hate speech.

If you would like further information or advice on what to do if you are being harassed or bullied online, please contact Cheryl Gayer.






This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.

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