When Cyber Harassment Becomes Libel or Slander, It Can Get Ugly

No one should put up with cyber harassment. Our 1st and 14th Amendment rights grant us freedom of speech, but nobody has the right to make false statements about a person that is detrimental to their reputation. That is considered slander or libel and they are crimes.

The Difference Between Cyber Harassment, Slander and Libel

Cyber harassment is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to harass an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization. Libel is a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation. It is malicious intent to discredit a person by misrepresentation. Slander is an action or crime of making a false, spoken statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation.

If It Happened To Me, It Can Happen To You

I have recently been a victim of this type of malicious and vindictive behavior. I was recently involved in a small claims court case regarding a website my company designed for a small company that forms corporations in Reno. The CEO of the company wanted the website to merge with Infusionsoft, a software program that helps companies with their email marketing. She wanted to be able to control her website, internet and email marketing herself. She had licensed the program months before she interviewed design companies to create her company’s website. Once hired, we did exactly what was outlined in the agreement and we even provided more pages and additional work that they requested and didn’t pay for (the extras totaling $5800). When the site went live, they informed us that they were incapable of learning Infusionsoft, changed their mind, and wanted their money back. I had to take them to small claims court to get the $2500 that they still owed us for the programming and design. I won the judgment and the judge dismissed the CEO’s counter suit. The CEO then decided to send me a threatening email and began a smear campaign through her blog.

CyberWitch Sq

This type of behavior is not only unprofessional, it is extremely destructive. If I had respect for the person and viewed her as highly educated and informed, I may have been insulted, but I have considered the source. However, I still need to be vigilant and continue a search for any other inflammatory actions regarding me, or my company’s reputation. As a graduate of Parson’s School of Design, I view design as a creative solution to help increase business and always strive to exceed my client’s expectations. I have built a very reputable business and have won 18 prestigious awards in the past 13 years. Out of over a hundred clients I have serviced, this is the first complaint I have received. It is not right for one vindictive person to harass a person online merely because they lost a small claims judgment.

What You Can Do To Fight Back

If you have been a victim of either of libel or slander, there are steps you can take. It is vital that you provide proof of the crime if you plan to proceed with a lawsuit. You need to make a hard copy of the statements. If it was made in a blog, take a screen shot of the blog showing the false statement and any responses made to the statement. If the statement was made in a verbal conversation, get a written statement from a witness that heard the slander and have it notarized. It is important to document any responses prior to initiating a lawsuit.

Then you need to file a complaint, which is a legal document filed with the court to begin a lawsuit. A good resource for filing a complaint is: http://www.ehow.com/how_2040840_sue-someone-internet-libel.html
If possible, hire an attorney to help you draft the complaint. You will also need to pay a filing fee and it varies depending on the amount you seek in damages and where you are filing the complaint. The court may provide a form for you to send to the defendant along with a copy of the complaint and a request for their response. After the defendant files and answer, there is a discovery phase, which is the time where both parties make requests for documents and evidence. At this time you can send the defendant a list of questions asking why they made the statements and how many people they told or how many blog responses they received. Since the questions are asked under oath, if you can prove that their answers are false, that would be considered perjury.

If you prefer to handle the problem using online resources, there is an Arbitration Committee through Wikipedia.org. The URL is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Arbitration/Guide_to_arbitration and you would need to complete a RFAR, Request for Arbitration, and the Committee would vote on whether to open the case.

I’d Like To Hear Your Opinion

If you have comments, have experienced a similar situation, or have additional advise, please let me know.

One Reply to “When Cyber Harassment Becomes Libel or Slander, It Can Get Ugly”

  1. You are absolutely correct. This can happen to anyone and has happened to me. For details, just Google my name “Monica Pignotti” to see the smear campaign against me, which ironically has also consisted of claims I am being sued for libel/defamation when to date, no such case has been filed and I am the one who is being libeled and defamed in all kinds of ways — see http://monicapignotti.wordpress.com ).

    My problem is that although I have a strong suspicion as to who the individuals are behind this, the libel and defamation about me has been posted via anonymous remailers and anonymous blogs, so tracking the person down is much more expensive than I can afford. This happened due to my advocacy work for children. There really are so many different types of people who have become the target of these sorts of campaigns.

    There really is very little someone in my position who doesn’t have the money to fight this can do, except to post on the internet and try to raise awareness so people understand that they should not blame the targets of these attacks, which many people have a tendency to do. Glad to see you are doing this as well!

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