Verbal abuse, Trolling on Social Media and Defamation: Legal Pointers

23 December 2015

Verbal abuse, Trolling on Social Media and Defamation: Legal Pointers

If anyone posts or says something that makes you feel uncomfortable or which upsets you or makes you angry, report it:

  • Every social media platform (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.) has a reporting section that you should use for any abuse received online. There are various charities and helplines available to support you if you experience this, for example: Halt Abuse and Women's Aid.
  • If you feel that there is an immediate physical threat to yours or another's safety than you can and should inform the Police.
  • You can also pursue legal action and sue any party involved. For example the journalist, the individual or a newspaper. Even anonymous posters can be tracked down and the individuals located but this can expensive.

1.     Harassment

  • Harassment is simply when someone behaves in a way which makes you feel distressed, humiliated or threated.
  • NB: You must have experienced at least two incidents by the same person or group of people
    • Claims can be brought under the Protection from Harassment Act 1996 or the Public Order Act 1994 as this is both a criminal and civil offence.
    • More information and useful guidance if you want to take legal action can be found on the Citizens Advice website.

 2.     Defamation

  • If you can prove that a 'defamatory statement' has been made, you can bring a claim under the Defamation Act 2013.

"A defamatory statement is a statement that is published to a third party, that lowers the subject in the estimation of right-thinking members of society and which causes or is likely to cause serious harm to the subject's reputation" 

  • The statement can be written (libel) which includes images, or spoken (slander), but it must be untrue.
  • Publishing to a third party includes publishing the statement via twitter, Facebook, newspapers or even shouting comments at a match.
  • You do not have to be named directly as the subject, anything that distinguishes you is sufficient.
  • Serious harm is an intentionally high threshold but it can be satisfied provided you can show your feelings have been hurt and you have suffered as a result of the defamatory statement.
  • Your claim must be brought within one year of the incident. This is notoriously a very expensive process and you should have legal representation if you want to bring a claim.
  • Legal aid is not normally available for defamation claims but some law firms may offer a 'no win no fee' agreement. You can contact a firm specialising in defamation via the Law Society website.



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