New online law to force trolls to come out of hiding


After a groundbreaking High Court ruling, the Government is looking to significantly change how libel laws operate.

Last week (June 2012), the High Court became the first national court to rule that a victim of online harassment can require websites to hand over any information that they have on the harassers.

Visit our harassment law pages for background on the law.

Victom supported X-Factor contestant

Nicola Brookes, a 45-year-old woman from Brighton, found herself the target of online harassment by unknown abusive internet users, called ‘trolls’. It all started after Brookes had published a post on the social networking site Facebook, in which she publicly supported Frankie Cocozza, an unsuccessful X-Factor contestant.

Shortly after she had posted her comment, Brookes noticed that an account had been set up in her name with an accompanying photo. Brookes thought that the matter would not escalate further, but within days acquaintances were telling her that there were negative comments about her on multiple websites.

Whoever set up the fake profile posted explicit abusive comments targeted at her and, according to Brookes, also tried to use the account to attract the attention of young girls.

The harassment went on for months, and the High Court has now ruled that Facebook must submit the identities of the users so that they can be prosecuted and held accountable for their actions.

What will the ruling mean for internet users?

This is a significant legal development as websites will now be required to reveal information about their users who engage in online harassment.

The rapid expansion of the internet and social networking sites has had the unfortunate consequence that it has become increasingly common for harmless internet users to find themselves victims of online harassment.

However, there are concerns over how effective these types of demands on websites will be, as the information provided by a website user might not be genuine.

Brookes’ solicitor, Rupinder Bains, said that it would be impossible to know the value of the information held by Facebook until it has been handed over. “We don’t know how useful that information is going to be until we have it. It may turn out to be fake. If that’s the case, it will be the internet service providers who will be most useful to us because they will hold the bill-payers’ addresses and we will have to get a further order.”

The Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, is openly advocating for a shake-up of defamation laws, under which websites would not necessarily need to remove content complained about as long as they provided information about the user in question.

Visit our defamation pages to learn more about the law in this area.

Who are the victims of online harassment?

As Brookes’ case clearly shows, sometimes individuals become victims of online harassment through no fault of their own. There have also been many instances where former lovers, or rejected partners, have displayed their discontent by posting degrading comments about one another or spreading intimate photos.

All these actions can have devastating consequences.

Having a free society is important but it is about striking a balance between freedom of speech and protection form abuse.

If you have been a victim of online harassment, there may be a legal remedy. Contact Law can find you a cost effective solicitor, free of charge. Call us on 0800 1777 162 or fill in the webform above to speak to an advisor.

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