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What should you do if you are being threatened online?

If someone begins to threaten you online, it might be hard to know what to do. Am I really being harassed? Do I call the police? Do I respond? What shall I do? Below is a helpful guide to assist you in taking the right actions to mitigate the damage caused by cyber threats.

Are you abused online?  

Hateful speech, non-consensual pornography, violent and sexual threats, impersonations - all these constitute abusive behaviour online. If someone is sending you threatening or offensive messages online, they could be committing an offense.

Typically, the most relevant would be the offence of harassment which is defined as the course of conduct that causes alarm or distress. The threat does not have to be a violent one, but for there to be harassment, the threat needs to occur more than once.

Another common offence is malicious communication. This involves sending a person something that is threatening, indecent or grossly offensive in nature.

Although harassment and malicious communication are the most common forms of online threatening behaviour, there are many others. For instance, cyberstalking is very closely related to harassment and involves fear of physical harm and emotional stress. These offences have a number of civil and criminal remedies that you might be able to rely on. Therefore, consulting a solicitor is highly encouraged.

What steps should you take?

If you are being harassed, the following are some useful steps to follow:

  • Identify the threat: it is important to identify what is happening in order to act in the right way. Are you just being critiqued? Or are you being abused online? Online abuse can take many different forms, but it is important to identify when harm is caused as a result of someone targeting you online.
  • Document the abuse: although due to the emotional reaction that cyber bullying attempts to evoke, the first reaction might be to delete or completely ignore the content, documenting the threat could be very helpful in case you want to take this further to court or to the police.  For example, take screenshots of anything you might deem to be harassing behaviour. Social media leaves a trail of evidence, so it is easier to document harassment online. Having visuals of anything that causes mental, physical or financial harm could be very useful when you have a full report prepared.
  • Protect yourself: safety is the most important factor, so it is important to enforce safeguards to ensure that the abuse does not persist or progress in any manner. Do not engage any further with the person that is threatening you. Make sure that your family and closest friends do the same. It is easy to forget that the person behind the screen doing the bullying wants to evoke a reaction. However, sometimes the best response is no response at all. If the threat is made via a particular website, also report that individual and his or her activities to the website directly.

It is important to remember that being threatened online can be a very stressful time and health problems could arise. Therefore, it may be appropriate to seek advice from a GP or a counsellor.

It is always advisable to ensure you have strong cybersecurity, including bolstering passwords and sometimes establishing boundaries between your personal and professional online presence. You can also set up online alerts, for example with Google, to monitor any content posted about you.

Although online bullying is unlikely to lead to physical violence, if you feel that you might be in immediate threat of violence, then you should immediately contact the police.

There are laws that could protect you from being threatened online further. Therefore, it is very important to seek advice from an expert reputation and privacy lawyer that can advise and protect you.

An expert lawyer in this area can determine and advise you on whether certain criteria are met in relation to the available civil and criminal remedies, including injunctions or non-molestation order against the person threatening you. Equally, if the threat has caused you distress or loss, a civil claim for damages can be brought.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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