Archive | July 2017

‘She deserved it…’ ‘He embarrassed me so I decided to do the same to him”… Dealing with online harassment without Police involvement.

Many of us (including me) have been there….posted something on social media in anger, when feeling sad or depressed, or drunk or high.  There is then that ‘Oh Sh*t’ moment when you realise, delete the post or photo and hope that not too many people saw it. Some of these ‘Oh Sh*t’ moments may involve comments about or photos of others and will then involve a grovelling apology to anyone you have embarrassed or upset.

There is however, a growing trend of people posting things on social media, blogs, and forums with the intention of causing another person to feel anxiety or distress, or embarrassment, or alternatively knowing that it will.  The girlfriend/boyfriend who becomes an ex,  and posts what are referred to as ‘dick pics’.  The person who feels aggrieved at the actions of another and posts copies of their private messages in such a way that they could be identified by others.  The person who sends emails or posts online messages to  another’s employer in the hope it will cause them problems at work or even cause them to lose their job.  Or in some cases, someone who becomes fixated on another, who they have never met, but who they research on social media, putting together the pieces until they have identified friends and family, who they then use to get at the person whom they have become fixated.  These are all actions which will be classed as harassment.   In most cases a person knows who it is who is harassing them, or is able to work it out from the content of the harassment.

The law on harassment is clear, there is no defence of “s/he deserved it” or “I wanted to tell them how I feel and they blocked me on their phone so i had to do it this way” or  “well, you can’t identify who I’m talking about just from that post”.  If a person (on more than 1 occasion) intentionally posts things online which on their own, or with other posts could identify another, or sends messages to another’s employer or home, and that causes the other anxiety, or alternatively an ordinary person would say that it is likely to cause anxiety or distress, then it is harassment.

While the Police can deal with harassment complaints, it is often difficult for them to do so quickly.   The police have to investigate and in many cases will have to make contact with another police force as the harasser often lives or works in another area, meanwhile the harasser will often ramp up their harassment, particularly if they do not get a reaction from the person they are harassing.

Another way of dealing with the harassment is by sending a warning letter to the harasser (I have sent out 3 this week alone) warning them that their actions are harassing, and that if they do not stop, then a civil claim can be brought against them.  The benefit of a civil claim is that the police do not need to be involved, the burden of proof is much lower.  Whereas in criminal courts the magistrates or jury have to be satisfied so that they are sure that a person has carried out the action and that an ordinary person would deem it to be harassment, in civil cases, it is merely a question of is it more likely than not that the actions would have caused harassment? This is much easier to prove.  In many cases, just providing screenshots of the social media posts is enough evidence to prove a civil case.

In civil cases a restraining order can be applied for.  This will be aimed at preventing the harasser posting anything else online which could cause the person they were harassing any anxiety or distress, or making any contact with the person they were harassing.  A breach of a restraining order can result in a prison sentence.

In my experience, the warning letter is often enough, but if it doesn’t do the trick, it is very easy to bring a claim in the civil courts as the abused person is in control of the court action, they do not have to rely on the intervention of the police or Crown Prosecution Service.   So although for many people, their first thought is to ring the police, with police resources stretched to breaking point around the country, a much better chance of getting the harassment stopped may be taking things into your own hands and using the civil route.