Case Study: What to do if you face defamation and harassment by someone from the US
This Twitter defamation case study delves into our strategic approach to an international online defamation case, where our client faced serious false allegations on Twitter. Despite various jurisdictional and legal challenges, our team effectively mitigated the defamation, safeguarding our client's reputation.
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Our client, Brian, a UK business owner, had been involved in a romantic relationship with a woman from the US whom he met online and who identified herself as Sara Lucas. The relationship was remote, and they primarily communicated using an online platform where our client used a pseudonym. As often happens in the world of online relationships, our client chose to maintain his privacy by not disclosing his real identity. He adopted a borrowed name to protect his personal information from being exposed on the internet. However, a series of unfortunate events led to his real identity being discovered by Sara Lucas.
This revelation came as a shock to her, leading her to respond with a series of abusive messages directed at our client. The situation escalated quickly when she began posting defamatory content about our client on Twitter under anonymous accounts. In addition to the defamatory posts and abusive messages that the twitter accounts had directed at our client online, the situation took a dramatic turn when she began to make false allegations of rape.
These serious accusations, made through anonymous Twitter accounts, represented a significant escalation in the harm being done to our client's personal and professional reputation. Adding to the gravity of the situation was the fact that these tweets were not just visible to the public but were also noticed by our client's employer. As a result, our client's professional standing was at risk, with the potential of losing his lucrative job due to these unfounded allegations.
Our goal was to facilitate the removal of these defamatory tweets and to prevent any further harassment. Given the seriousness of the allegations and the potential legal consequences, our strategy was multi-pronged:
- Contact Twitter: Our first step was to contact Twitter directly, highlighting that the posts were false, malicious, and defamatory, and thus likely a breach of Twitter’s terms and conditions. We emphasized Twitter's potential liability under section 5 of the Defamation Act 2013 and the Defamation (Operators of Website) Regulations 2013.
- Request Disclosure: To prevent future harassment, we also requested that Twitter provide us with information about the anonymous accounts, including email addresses, locations, and IP addresses. This would require obtaining a court order.
- Right to be forgotten to Google
- Legal Action: After obtaining the necessary disclosure, we planned to file a claim against the harasser or, if her identity remained unknown, against "person unknown". This would allow us to apply for default judgment and an injunction, making it easier to have any similar future information removed from social media and search engines.
The limitation period for defamation and malicious falsehood is 12 months in many jurisdictions, including the UK. This limitation period starts from the date on which the defamatory statement was published. The implications of missing the limitation period in defamation cases can be significant. If the deadline for bringing a claim expires, a client may lose the legal right to take action against the defamer.
- Loss of Legal Right to Claim: Missing the deadline essentially means losing the legal right to bring a claim against the perpetrator. The courts generally refuse to hear a case related to an incident that occurred beyond the limitation period.
- Limited Legal Recourse: While it is sometimes possible to ask the court to set aside the limitation period in exceptional circumstances, this is often difficult to achieve. If the claimant misses the deadline, they may have no legal recourse against the defamer.
- Decreased Credibility: Waiting for a long time before bringing a claim can potentially harm the claimant's credibility. The delay may create a perception that the claim is not serious or that the damage caused was not significant.
- Erosion of Evidence: Over time, evidence might be lost, memories fade, and witnesses may become harder to track down. This could make the claimant's case weaker and more challenging to prove.
Yes. In England, a website operator, including Twitter, could be liable for defamation in relation to Tweets posted by third parties. This position is very different to the law in the US. Given the serious nature of the defamatory posts and the harm they were causing to our client's personal and professional reputation, it was crucial to act quickly and decisively.
Our strategy was to approach Twitter directly, requesting the removal of the defamatory posts and seeking information about the anonymous accounts. We highlighted the breaching of Twitter's terms of service and possible legal implications under the Defamation Act 2013 and Defamation (Operators of Website) Regulations 2013.
Simultaneously, we sought a court order to compel Twitter to release details about the anonymous accounts, which would allow us to confirm the identity of the harasser. With this information, we planned to file a claim against the harasser to ensure the removal of the content and prevent future harassment.
Our actions in response to this case were multifaceted and centered around effective communication with Twitter, the platform where the defamatory allegations were made, and a strong legal strategy that protected our client's interests.
Yes. You can obtain a disclosure order to compel Twitter to provide you with information pertaining to third party user accounts. Our first step was to serve an NPO (Norwich Pharmacal Order) letter and draft Order to Twitter. The NPO is a legal tool that obliges a third party, in this case Twitter, to disclose certain requested information.
Our NPO requested the deletion of the three Twitter accounts associated with the defamatory comments and the disclosure of any information that could help identify the anonymous account owner. As a result, Twitter promptly deactivated the three accounts. However, our client soon identified a fourth account, also making defamatory allegations. We put Twitter on notice regarding this new account and pressed for similar action.
If Twitter refuse to take down defamatory tweets, you should keep pursing Twitter through legal correspondence. Twitter initially refused to take down the defamatory tweets. First, Twitter responded by highlighting the complexities of the case. They acknowledged that the original three accounts violated their spam policy but stated that a further account which posted similar abusive posts did not.
Hence, they first refused to deactivate the fourth account but eventually following perseverance by our lawyers, that account came down as well. Regarding the disclosure application, Twitter also voiced concerns about potential implications for the supposed victim's privacy and freedom of expression. Given these developments and the suspension of the accounts, our client opted not to proceed with further costs associated with the court hearing.
Following the successful removal of the defamatory tweets from Twitter, our attention turned to erasing any traces of these tweets from search engine results. This was critical because, even after deletion from the original platform, defamatory content can still persist on the internet, particularly in search engine results.
This continued online presence can perpetuate harm to an individual's reputation. To address this issue, we submitted a Right to be Forgotten (RTBF) application to Google. The RTBF is a provision under EU data protection law, specifically the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), that allows individuals to request the removal of specific search results associated with their name.
The RTBF application requires a careful balance, as it must respect the data subject's privacy rights without infringing on the public's right to access information and the principle of freedom of expression.
Our Right to be Forgotten application was effective. Google was responsive and agreed to de-index the URLs associated with the offending tweets in their search results related to our client's name. Consequently, anyone searching our client's name would no longer find these defamatory posts in their search results.
This was a significant victory in the fight to restore and protect our client's reputation. It highlighted the importance of addressing all potential sources of harmful content online and demonstrated our comprehensive approach to tackling online defamation. Our client was extremely satisfied with this outcome.
Despite the complexities of the case, we managed to effectively protect our client's rights and reputation, demonstrating the importance of a proactive and adaptable legal strategy when tackling online defamation.
Navigating this type of case involved overcoming multiple challenges, each introducing its unique complexity. The international nature of the case, varying legal jurisdictions, the attitude of the platform involved, and cost constraints all demanded a strategic and nuanced approach.
The first major challenge was dealing with the different jurisdictions involved. Our client was based in England, while the alleged perpetrator was located in the United States. Different jurisdictions have varying legal definitions and regulations regarding online defamation and harassment. Reconciling these differences, understanding how to apply them, and considering the potential effects on our client’s case posed a significant challenge.
This case involved several causes of action, including defamation and harassment. Each of these causes has unique legal frameworks and requirements, which differ significantly between England and the United States. This meant we had to ensure our actions and advice took into account these different laws and their potential implications on the case.
Another significant challenge was Twitter's initial lack of sympathy towards our client's cause. Their hesitation to act swiftly and decisively in response to our requests for account deactivation and information disclosure added an extra layer of complexity to the case. We had to engage in ongoing dialogue with them to ensure they understood the gravity of the situation and our client's rights.
The final challenge was managing escalating legal costs. Legal processes can be expensive, particularly in a complex case like this one that involves multiple jurisdictions, several legal causes, and the involvement of large corporations such as Twitter. We had to balance the need for strong legal action with our client's financial concerns.
We sought to do this by consistently looking for creative and cost-effective solutions to progress the case, without compromising the quality of our legal support. Despite these challenges, we managed to steer the case to a successful outcome. This demonstrates our ability to deal with intricate and difficult situations, highlighting our commitment to our clients and our capability to navigate the complexities of international defamation and harassment cases.
Cases like this underscore the seriousness of online defamation, particularly when it involves grave accusations that can have far-reaching consequences on a person's personal and professional life. It also underscores the importance of immediate and decisive legal action upon the discovery of such content. In dealing with similar situations in the future, it's recommended to:
- Promptly seek legal advice and understand the time limitations for bringing forward legal action.
- Actively monitor online reputation to ensure early detection of any defamatory content.
- Understand the roles and responsibilities of social media platforms and use legal routes to facilitate content removal and prevent future harassment. 4. Engage with professional reputation management services, if necessary, to ensure online reputation is restored and maintained. This case study provides a blueprint for tackling online defamation and highlights the need for a strong, proactive response.
One of the most notable strengths of our law firm lies in our ability to assist clients in defamation and harassment cases, regardless of the harasser's location. In a world increasingly interconnected through digital channels, this international capability is a critical asset that sets us apart from many other law firms.
We maintain an extensive network of lawyers and attorneys spread across various jurisdictions, including Europe, the United States, and Canada. This network empowers us to swiftly address international defamation and harassment cases, as we can readily call on local expertise in relevant jurisdictions.
Moreover, our international legal network goes beyond merely addressing jurisdictional issues. These professionals provide valuable insights and advice, shaping our understanding of varying defamation and harassment laws across different countries. This knowledge pool is indispensable in designing effective strategies and solutions for our clients, no matter where they or their harasser might be located. Our ability to leverage this network and deliver results, even in complex international cases, is a testament to our firm's dedication to our clients. We strive to ensure that
This Twitter defamation case underscored our firm's dedication to championing our clients' rights and protecting their reputation, regardless of the complexity of the situation. By leveraging our robust international network and legal expertise, we managed to navigate the intricacies of differing laws across jurisdictions, effectively combating online defamation and harassment.
Our strategic actions facilitated the removal of harmful content, resulting in a significant reduction in emotional distress and potential reputational damage for our client. The successful resolution of this case reaffirms our commitment to offering dynamic solutions tailored to our clients' needs and signifies our readiness to tackle digital defamation in today's increasingly interconnected world. wherever our clients are, and wherever the defamation or harassment occurs, we are prepared and equipped to defend their rights and protect their reputation.