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Internet & Social Media Law

Our expert lawyers can help with social media defamation, online harassment and privacy, confidentiality and data protection issues.

Home » Personal Law » Personal Disputes » Internet and Social Media Law
“In a difficult situation of claiming money and family illness, Debbie Schofield handled the whole situation with professional care, honesty, speed and compassion. I felt that Debbie was working for my father's best interests and he felt the same.”
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Our expert lawyers can help with social media defamation, online harassment and privacy, confidentiality and data protection.

Defamation on social media and online can seriously harm the reputations of individuals and businesses. The reach of social media and the ease and speed with which malicious or damaging content can be posted and shared online is greater than ever before. If you or your business have suffered as a result of being defamed on social media, or from online harassment or privacy issues, we can help you by seeking the removal of the offending content or by taking legal action for damages/compensation, an apology/correction and injunctive relief.

We act for clients from individuals to businesses large and small, and we can advise in relation posts made online and on all social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest, Tumblr and many others.

Our lawyers understand and are experienced in dealing with the legal and practical issues involved in such cases and can 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;
  • Online harassment, trolling, cyber-bullying;
  • Disclosure and use of confidential information, misuse of private information, invasion of privacy;
  • Breach of copyright and other intellectual property rights in data, content and images;
  • Right to be forgotten;
  • Cyber-squatting, fake and hacked profiles, accounts and email addresses;
  • Unlawful use or disclosure of personal data and claims under the Data Protection Act 1998 and General Data Protection Regulation 2018 (“GDPR”).

Defamation on Social Media

There is a common lack of understanding that individuals are legally responsible for what they say and do online, but a comment, post, message, image or video content may be defamatory if it is false and derogatory and damages your reputation by exposing you to "hatred, ridicule or contempt". This can apply equally to retweets, reposts or otherwise sharing or forwarding someone else's defamatory content.

Harassment and Privacy

Cyber-bullying, trolling and cyberstalking can all constitute online harassment, as can the online publication of explicit private images (so called “revenge porn”). Such conduct may give rise to civil claims for harassment, defamation, misuse of private information and breach of copyright. It can also constitute a criminal offence.

We can help you by:

  • Seeking removal of the offending content by taking action against the individual(s) involved (“cease and desist”);
  • Requiring the platform, operator or host of the site 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 further unlawful conduct;
  • Taking action to obtain disclosure of information to help identify the individual(s) involved (a “Norwich Pharmacal” order);
  • Where appropriate, making representations to the Police or CPS about any possible criminal offences;
  • Many cases are resolved without the need for formal legal action.

We offer fixed-fee initial consultations from £250 plus VAT and a range of innovative and flexible funding options.

To arrange a consultation or to find out how we can support you, 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.

How can I help you?
Mike Wilson
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T: 01482 320 620

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Amelia Anderson-Jane
How can I help you?
Amelia Anderson-Jane
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T: 01482 320 620

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Amelia Anderson-Jane
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FAQs
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 private or explicit images. The principal test is "whether in respect of the disclosed facts the person in question had a reasonable expectation of privacy". 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 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.