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Internet & Social Media Law

Our expert internet and social media solicitors understand and are experienced in dealing with the legal and practical issues involved in social media cases including defamation, cyber-bullying, trolling, copyright, hacking and disclosure of personal data.

Home » Personal Law » Personal Disputes » Internet and Social Media Law
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Our expert lawyers can help with online defamation and harassment as well as privacy, confidentiality and data protection issues

The ever-growing popularity of social media websites and apps such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google Plus+, Instagram, Tumblr and Reddit have led to a sharp rise in online defamation, cyber-bullying, harassment and privacy, confidentiality and data protection issues. These are problems which affect individuals and businesses alike.

With the spread of mobile internet access, the ease and speed with which malicious or damaging content can be shared and spread online is greater than ever before and there is a common lack of understanding among internet and social media users that they are legally responsible for what they say and do online, but the repercussions can be serious.

Our lawyers understand and are experienced in dealing with the legal and practical issues involved in such cases and are here to help you decide what action to take. We have an impressive track record and particular expertise in:

  • Social media defamation (libel) and defamatory or malicious comments, posts and reviews;
  • Cyber-bullying, online harassment, trolling;
  • Cyber-squatting, fake and hacked profiles, accounts and email addresses;
  • Breach of copyright and other intellectual property rights in data, content and images;
  • Disclosure and use of confidential information, unlawful use of private information and invasion of privacy; and
  • Unlawful use or disclosure of personal data and claims under the Data Protection Act 1998.

We can help you by:

  • Taking preventative action against the individual(s) involved (“cease and desist”);
  • Requiring the operator or host of the site or app to remove or block comments, posts, images or links (“notice and take down”) and/or to identify and/or ban the individual(s) involved;
  • Bringing a claim for defamation, harassment, breach of confidence, misuse of private information, breach of copyright, data protection breaches,
  • Securing an interim or final injunction to prevent unlawful conduct;
  • Where appropriate, making representations to the Police or CPS about any possible criminal offences.
  • Most cases are resolved without the need for formal legal action.

We offer fixed-fee initial consultations and a range of innovative and flexible funding options.

To arrange a consultation or to find out how we can support you, please contact us on 01482 320620, request a call back or enquire online.

Please note that we are unable to undertake such work on a legal aid basis.

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Mike Wilson

T: 01482 320 620

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What do I do if I am a victim of online defamation, cyber-bullying or harassment?
1. Obtain and preserve evidence by printing all relevant webpages (with date/time-stamps where possible) or posts, or by saving screenshots; 2. Avoid responding directly as this may only make the situation worse and you are legally responsible for your own comments, posts and actions; 3. Where available, make use of the website/apps reporting/complaints process; 4. Contact us for advice; and 5. If you believe you are in physical danger, contact the police immediately.
What is defamation?
A comment, post, message, image or other content may be defamatory (libellous) if it is false and derogatory and damages someone's reputation "in the estimation of right-thinking members of society" by exposing them to "hatred, ridicule or contempt". This can apply equally to retweets, reposts or otherwise sharing or forwarding someone else's defamatory content.
What is cyber-bullying/trolling?
Cyber-bullying is the use of electronic communication to bully or harass a person, typically by sending comments, posts, messages, images of an intimidating or threatening nature. It can include repeated comments, posts or messages which are abusive, indecent, offensive or intended to provoke or invade another person’s privacy. ‘Trolling’ is an internet slang term. It refers to people who deliberately use offensive, indecent, threatening or false language to upset, provoke, threaten or offend another person on the internet. Cyber-bullying and trolling can constitute harassment and defamation.
What is cybersquatting?
Cybersquatting occurs when an individual or business registers an internet domain name with bad faith, often with intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark, brand or name belonging to someone else (whether an individual or a business). Increasingly, it is also being done with the intention of harassing or defaming that individual or business. A more recent form of cybersquatting involves registering “fake” accounts on popular social media sites or apps using trademarks, brands or names belonging to another individual or business.
What is online harassment/cyberstalking?
Harassment is a "course of conduct" which causes alarm or distress. A "course of conduct" means two or more events, although there will often be a long history of harassment. Cyberstalking is the use of the internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group, or an organisation. Cyber-bullying, trolling and cyberstalking can all constitute online harassment, as can the online publication of explicit private images (so called “revenge porn”). Harassment is both a criminal offence and a civil action. The conduct in question may also give rise to claims for defamation and the misuse of private information. It may also constitute a criminal offence under, amongst other legislation, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Communications Act 2003 and/or the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.
What privacy laws exist in England and Wales?
There is no general law of ‘invasion of privacy’, but a right to privacy has long been recognised and protected under English law in order to give effect to the right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. The central cause of action is known as ‘misuse of private information’ but claims may also exist for breach of confidence, harassment or under the Data Protection Act 1998.
What is misuse of private information/breach of confidence?
Misuse of private information, or wrongful disclosure of private information, involves the unauthorised use or disclosure of information about a person that is obviously private – such as information relating to health, personal relationships, or finances – or where there is room for doubt about whether it is private. The principal test is "whether in respect of the disclosed facts the person in question had a reasonable expectation of privacy". Misuse of private information arose out of the law relating to breach of confidence and has only been recognised as a stand-alone cause of action relatively recently following leading decisions in Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapers and Vidal-Hall v Google Inc. Breach of confidence involves the unauthorised use or disclosure of information which is confidential in nature (meaning that it must have the "necessary quality of confidence") and was disclosed in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence (usually based on a contractual or other relationship of confidence). Information is often both private and confidential, meaning claims may be available for both misuse of private information and breach of confidence.
What rights exist under the Data Protection Act 1998?
The Act imposes broad obligations on those who collect ‘personal data’ and rights on those about whom data is collected. It requires that personal data are obtained, held and processed fairly and lawfully and gives individuals the right to access personal data held about them. Personal data is data relating to living individuals who can be identified from that data, or from that data and other information. Personal data can include, for examples, names, addresses, job titles, dates of birth and medical or financial information. It can also include photographs images or video. The Act gives particular protection to ‘sensitive personal data’, which includes information concerning matters such as racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, health, sexual life or criminal offences. The Act allows individuals to apply to a data controller for disclosure of the personal data being processed about them (a ‘subject access request’), to apply to court for compensation for the processing of personal data in breach of the Act or, in certain circumstances, apply for a court order preventing the processing of personal data.
What is copyright infringement?
Under UK law, copyright subsists in original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, sound recordings, films or broadcasts. This can include photographs, images, video, text and software or computer programmes contained on or embedded in a website or app. Copyright infringement, or breach of copyright, occurs when such a work is copied or used without the consent or licence of the copyright owner. A claim for breach of copyright may exist as a stand-alone claim or in conjunction with claims for defamation, harassment, misuse of private information, breach of confidence or breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.
What if I do not know who is responsible?
Where the identity of an individual responsible for online defamation, cyber-bullying/trolling, online harassment/cyberstalking, misuse of confidential information or any other cause of action, is unknown, or only a pseudonym or username is known, the operator or host of a website or app will often refuse or be reluctant to identify the wrongdoer. This is because they are subject to their own obligations of confidentiality and under the Data Protection Act 1998. In these circumstances, it may be possible to apply to the court for an order requiring the operator or host to provide information disclosing the identity of that individual (a ‘Norwich Pharmacal Order’). It is also possible in certain circumstances to take legal action against ‘persons unknown’ and to serve legal proceedings online, by email or through social media, such as Facebook or Twitter. It may also be possible to take action against the host or operator of the website or app persuading or requiring them to remove or block content and/or to ban the individual(s) involved.
Can I take action against a search engine/website operator or host?
In certain circumstances it may be possible to take legal action against the host or operator of a website or app, or other internet intermediaries such as search engines and ISPs, in relation to the publication of defamatory content, misuse of private information or breach of confidence, copyright infringement or breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998. In particular, they may be liable as secondary publishers of defamatory content if they fail to respond to notice of a complaint (‘notice and takedown’). It is often possible to persuade a website operator, host or ISP to remove or block content and/or to ban the individual(s) involved. It may also be possible to require them to identify those individuals by an application to court. Following the decision in Google Spain, it may also be possible to take action requiring Google or other search engines to filter out search results ‘under the right to be forgotten’.
What is the right to be forgotten/the decision in Google Spain?
In the ‘Google Spain’ case (Google Spain SL and Google Inc v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) and Mario Costeja González C-131/12) the European Court of Justice held that individuals have the right to have search engine results removed where they affect privacy rights. Where data is inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant, or where the data are excessive or are not kept up-to-date, it should not remain searchable by name (the ‘right to be forgotten’). The court also clarified that Google and other search engines are a ‘data controller’ for the purposes of the Data Protection Act 1998. The ‘right to be forgotten’ is not absolute and Google and other search engine operators can refuse to filter results where there is a “preponderant public interest”. To date, Google has agreed to filter around 40% of requests form the UK If Google or another search engine refuses a request to filer results, it may be possible to request that it reviews it decision, to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office or apply to court for an order requiring it to do so.