Online harassment is often directed at relatively powerless individuals, while the targets of online harassment are often people whom the internet and its angry mob would have greater power over; this tension comes out most clearly when talking about “doxing” and associated tactics, which are simply attempts to humiliate someone until they leave the internet.
The most common form of online harassment is trolling, which is designed to provoke. Then there’s cyberstalking, wherein a stalker attempts to frighten and intimidate. And finally, there’s cyberbullying, in which the target is deliberately humiliated and degraded to satisfy the bully’s own twisted emotional needs. Even though these things are done via the internet, it still causes deep emotional distress, panic, and paranoia to the victims.
However, you are not totally helpless when you get defamed online. Here are five steps you can take if you ever get on the victim end of a cybercrime.
- Report aggressive behavior to law enforcement
Bringing the police into an online harassment case can be scary and overwhelming, especially for individuals who have never visited their local police station or filed a police report. If you wind up traveling to your precinct in person, or if the police decide to send an officer to your home to take a statement, having a trusted loved one by your side can help.
Meanwhile, it might benefit you to be able to physically defend yourself with a firearm. Especially in cases where the perpetrator does know your address or place of work.
Report internet fraud or cybercrime to the Internet Crime Complaint Center if you suspect you’ve been a victim (IC3).
- Report the abuse to the website hosting it
The internet gives everyone access to peek into each other’s lives; it’s a great tool that connects all of us from different parts of the world. But many have found themselves victims of online harassment and defamation.
There are a lot of websites on the internet where someone could leave a potentially defamatory comment or message, either purposefully or accidentally. Most websites have a “Contact Us” section where you can file a complaint to take down the post that violates you.
- File a complaint in the comment section of the blog or social media channel
Defamatory content on social media and review sites is not required by law to be removed. In fact, under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, they are particularly protected against defamation lawsuits. You can, however, launch a lawsuit against the person who made the libelous statement.
- Ask the Poster to Take Down the Offensive Media/Video or Post
If you discover your image or video has been posted without your permission, you can contact the person who posted it (if you know who they are) and request that they delete it. If that person continues to refuse, you can pursue legal action. If you need more information or find yourself in this scenario, don’t be afraid to contact a qualified lawyer. Keep in mind that this happens to folks all the time.
- Turn to a Lawyer
The rules regarding internet harassment might differ significantly from state to state, which is why no online resource can ever substitute legal counsel from a local attorney.
Law enforcement officers aren’t always up to date on online abuse legislation or how online platforms might be used to target a specific person.
Another reason it can be difficult to build a criminal case against an online abuser is because the United States’ First Amendment provides among of the world’s strongest speech protections. Hatred or disparagement of individuals or organizations is generally not criminal by law unless it falls into a category of expression not protected by the First Amendment.
However, depending on the severity of the harassment, you may have a case. These categories can be grounds for criminal offense:
- False Advertising
- True Threats
- Fighting Words