News 23.2.2013 No Comments


Is the prosecution of cyberstalking and online harassment in the UK a postcode lottery?

Earlier this month, we sent an email containing a hypothetical scenario of cyberstalking, based on a number of real cases we have seen, to all the police forces in the UK, the Crown Prosecution Service and (as suggested  by two police forces) the Association for Chief Police Officers (ACPO). We also sought advice from five solicitors and a barrister, a lecturer in criminology and a professor of law.

We decided to investigate after receiving a number of anecdotal reports suggesting the criminal prosecution of cyberbullying and stalking in the UK was a ‘postcode lottery’, with huge variations in the level of support and interest taken by local policing – despite clear national guidance produced by the CPS.

Put simply – the guidance is clear: http://www.cps.gov.uk/consultations/social_media_consultation.pdf & http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/stalking_and_harassment/ & http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/a_to_c/communications_offences/ but are all the police forces adopting it?

The real concern is that our victims’ experiences demonstrate a reality gap between support group and legal advice on the internet, and how the police deal with online harassment in reality. Often victims complain that the police are not at all interested in online harassment.

The advice received from solicitors, barristers and legal experts was clear – that there is more than sufficient legislation to cover these forms of online harassment. Do the police and CPS concur?


This was the email we sent:

17th February 2013

Enquiry sent to all UK police forces and the CPS:

Dear Sir or Madam

I wonder if you could answer a question based on the below hypothetical scenario:

1 – Would you consider a UK posted tweet accusing a person of unblemished character and without any criminal record or allegations made to the police or any other authority (ie innocent) of being a ‘paedophile’ to be ‘grossly offensive?

2 – If more than 3 such tweets were posted would you consider this to be a course of harassment?

3 – Would your police force take action, and if so what?

Please can you indicate if you would be happy for us to publish your response in an upcoming blog post to be syndicated to press and media which we aim to syndicate for publication on Friday 22nd February 2013.

All the police forces and the CPS acknowledged receipt of the email. The following replied. (New replies will be added to this post when received.) Note – the email was not marked as a “Freedom of Information request“, and was sent to the contact address as listed on the specific police force’s website. It was surprising and disappointing how many forces decided to view the email as a freedom of information request and decline to respond on that basis.



Advice from solicitors/barrister:

“This is a criminal matter. The police should prosecute this as a course of harassment, with the intention of securing a restraining order to protect the victim from any repeat of the behaviour.”

“Victims need to be aware that police officers are not always sufficiently expert, or sufficiently interested in  internet harassment to properly investigate and present a case to the CPS. Too often we have seen clients recall instances where the police have applied incorrect interpretations of the law – for example that a tweet has to be threatening, or that a communication can only be a letter or telephone call – or complete disinterest and disregard for internet related offenses – for example claiming that the internet cannot be policed or harassment is a civil matter. “

“Twitter and Facebook cyber-stalking isn’t sexy enough for some police officers who are more concerned with career enhancing murder, rape and robbery cases rather than long and convoluted internet investigations.”

“While a criminal conviction for harassment is usually more useful to the victim than a civil remedy, we would advise clients to have a solicitor present when making a complaint to the police, to help avoid being provided with inaccurate interpretations of the law.”



Advice from law professor & criminology lecturer:

“When we teach our students how to determine whether something is merely ‘offensive’ or ‘grossly offensive’ we use as an example calling someone ‘a Nazi’ or ‘a paedophile’ as a communication which is ‘grossly offensive’. “

“Provided the evidence is clear-cut, the only judgement call here is which legislation would represent the best prospect of a conviction – a prosecution using the Malicious Communications & Communications Act or a prosecution using the Protection from Harassment Act. If the police are unsure, they should make best use of the CPS for legal guidance.”

“For me, this hinges on whether the intended audience of the harassment was offended. Clearly the paedophile slur was aimed at the victim, and clearly that person found it offensive. Therefore it is harassment.”



Responses from Police Forces and the CPS (printed in order received)


Response from Sussex Police:

“With cases such as the senario you mention it is more about the victim and how they feel.

From what you have described if the victim of the posts were caused “harrassment alarm and distress” then it is harrassment.

And if the content would, by any reasonable person be obvious that it would cause alarm distress or harrassment to the victim.

What police could do would depend very much on if it were possible to find out who posted the remarks.

Harrassment can in extreeme cases have very serious consequences.

In order to be able to answer your quiery more fully we would need more information and would make an appointment for the victim to speak to a police officer .”


Response from Fife Constabulary:

Further to your email dated 17 th February 2013, requesting information under the Freedom of Information
(Scotland) Act 2002. I can advise you as follows.
There is not requirement under Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 12002 to respond to hypothetical
scenarios in relation tweets regarding accusing a person of unblemished character and without any
criminal record or allegations. Therefore, under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, Section
17 (1) (b) Notice that information is not held applies and I regret I cannot supply you with the information
you require.
Due to short time scale on your enquiry our Media Department may be able to assist and can be contact
at the following email address:
media@fife.pnn.police.uk
We forwarded the email as suggested.


Response from City of London Police:

The Freedom of Information Act is a tool, which gives members of the public access to information held by a public organisation. With reference to your request, I would not be able to provide a response to a hypothetical situation, as each case is dealt with based on its own merits. If you would like to redefine your request please contact this office.

We forwarded the email to the media office as suggested.

The media office replied:

We can only respond to accredited journalists with a commissioned piece.
You may find that you will have more success if you speak to ACPO or the Home Office.

Many thanks,

We forwarded the email to the home office as suggested (we’d already send a query to the ACPO)

The Home Office replied thus: (begging the question why did City of London police suggest we contact them?)

Thank you for your email of 25 February. Your email has been passed to the Direct Communications Unit at the Home Office and I have been asked to reply.

The Home Office is unable to comment on individual cases or to speculate on what actions the police may take. The administration of justice is independent of Government and is carried out by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Where a crime has been committed or alleged, or a complaint has been made to the police, it is their responsibility to decide whether there are sufficient grounds to launch a criminal investigation. If they do and identify evidence against one or more suspects, they must notify the CPS. They will then consider whether a prosecution is needed. The Code for Crown Prosecutors prohibits a prosecution from continuing if there is not a realistic prospect of a conviction.

I hope that you find this information useful.


Response from Tayside Police:

We would encourage anyone in this situation to contact their local police to explain the full set of circumstances.  Only then can appropriate advice be given and a full and proper investigation can be carried out. Where there is any evidence of criminal intent or activity then a report would be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland for consideration.

The Director of Public Prosecution in England and Wales (DPP) has publicly said that where there is a sustained attack using social media, which is grossly offensive, there is likely to be an investigation and arrests could follow.  However, for one off comments, that are often made in the heat of the moment, which are then taken down, prosecution would be far less likely. The DPP launched a consultation document on the issue in December 2012 (Closes on 13 March 2013).  You can find this consultation online here;http://www.cps.gov.uk/consultations/social_media_consultation.html . Due to the differing legal systems, Crown Office will be able to provide you with their stance on prosecution of cases of this kind in Scotland.
The DPP’s consultation only refers to criminal offences but it’s worth highlighting that many people have chosen to pursue social media defamation cases through the civil courts.

We submitted the questions in the emailed scenario to the CPS social media consultation.


Response from Cleveland Police:

I write in connection with your request for information dated 17 February 2013 concerning grossly offensive tweet.
I must first point out to you that I do not consider your request valid. For a request under the Freedom of Information Act, to be valid the requester must provide his/her name and address. You have not provided your surname.
Notwithstanding that the Freedom of Information Act deals with information held by a Public Authority.
You are making a request based on a hypothetical scenario.
Cleveland Police do not hold any information relevant to your request.


Response from Kent Police:

Kent Police responded with a detailed and positive reply but they did not consent to us publishing the reply.


Response from Gloucestershire Police:

Unfortunately, your email does not comply with Section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and therefore your request is not valid.  The FOI act relates to recorded information and due to the fact that your request is based on a hypothetical situation the Force would not have any information to release. It would seem that a national steer on this subject would be of more use to you therefore I can only suggest that you contact Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and see if they are conducting any national work on this.  Please see below website: http://www.acpo.police.uk/

We forwarded the email as suggested.


Response from Bedfordshire Police:

I am afraid we are unable to accept your request because you are not asking for information, documentation or records that are held by Bedfordshire Police. Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, a request can be in the form of a question, rather than a request for specific documents, but the authority does not have to answer the question if this would mean creating new information or giving an opinion or judgement that is not already recorded.


Response from Dorset Police:

We should point out that this is not a Freedom of Information request per se; you ask for comment and speculation while we are only able to respond to requests for information held by the force.
We would have no problem engaging with you to formulate an appropriate request but should highlight that we would not be able to discuss specific real scenarios since this would be likely to involve sensitive personal information, which we would not disclose.
I provide a link to the CPS’ legal guidance on stalking and harassment below, in case it assists.
http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/stalking_and_harassment/


Response from Gwent Police:

We have concluded that your request, as presented, does not constitute a request under section 8 of the Act in that it does not fulfil the criteria of Section 8 of the FOIA as it is not asking for recorded information but presenting a hypothetical scenario for comment.


Response from Northants Police:

The request does not comply with Section 8 of the Act as it is asking for a comment/opinion rather than information held by the Force. I am therefore unable to assist.


Response from Essex Police:

Thank you for your enquiry which has been logged under the above reference.

However, I am afraid that your request does not meet the requirements of a Freedom of Information request as it does not describe what, in terms of recorded information held by Essex Police, you are seeking access to (section 8, 1 (C) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) refers).


Response from West Midlands Police:

Your request does not fulfil the criteria of Section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as it is not asking for recorded information but presenting a hypothetical scenario for comment, therefore it is not a valid request under the Act.  The FOIA applies to recorded information therefore the Freedom of Information unit are unable to offer opinion, conjecture or speculation


Response from Cheshire Police:

I would suggest that you forward your enquiry about the legal context around social networking matters to ACPO press office who will offer guidance on the national stance and how it is interpreted.

We forwarded the email as suggested.

Response from Gwent Police:

Your enquiry has been forwarded to us by our call handling centre.
Although you have advised this is a hypothetical scenario anyone who contacts the police with concerns about an incident, whether it be harassment or any other matter, would have their case looked at on an individual basis. The full facts of the case would need to be known before reaching a conclusion, therefore we are unable to answer your questions.


Response from Lothian and Borders Police:

Thank you for your email received 17/02/2013 seeking information.

I am afraid Lothian and Borders Police cannot respond in definite terms to the hypothetical scenario you outline – every report made to the Police must be judged on its own merits, based on the evidence available to Officers at the time.

In general, any allegation of harassment, in any form, should be formally reported to the police by the complainer, either at a local police station or by telephone. From there, the report would be investigated. Action taken against the perpetrator would depend on the outcome of the enquiry but could involve them being formally warned by the Police, or them being charged and reported to the Procurator Fiscals office for consideration.


Response from Dyfed Police:

Dyfed Powys Police is not required to respond to your request as it has been considered that it does not fall within the meaning of a request as identified within Section 8 (Request for information) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000). Please see the attached document which provides an explanation as to how Dyfed Powys Police has reached this decision. Therefore in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 this response acts as a refusal notice.


Response from Avon and Somerset Police:

I write in connection with your request for information dated 17th February concerning allegations made on social networks.
I am afraid this is not a valid Freedom of Information request as you are seeking comments on a hypothetical situation and not requesting recorded data.
In order to try and help you however, if a person was to tweet such comments then there are potential offences under the Malicious Communications Act 1988, Harassment Act 1997 and the Communications Act 2003. If this was reported to the police then we would of course investigate this to see if any crimes had been committed. This information has been provided to you outside the remit of the FOI Act and is in order to try and assist you.


Response from Durham Constabulary:

I am unable to deal with your request as it is not a valid request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Section 8 of the Act states that a request is valid if (a) it is in writing, (b) states the name of the applicant and an address, and (c) describes the information requested. I note that you have not requested specific information (for example statistics, policies) but have given a hypothetical scenario for comment and I am therefore unable to assist.


Response from Northern Constabulary (Inverness):

Any response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) can only be based on recorded information. We cannot comment under FOISA on a hypothetical situation and as such, your request is not a valid request under FOISA.

For your information, our Social Media Policy states that we ask people not to post defamatory comments on Social Media sites, nor to use them to report a crime or make a complaint.


Response from South Wales Police:

southwalespolice Cyberbullying, cyberstalking and online harassment   a UK study

Response from Grampian Police:

These are hypothetical circumstances and it is impossible to say exactly what action would be taken, as such matters are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and the action taken would be relevant to the specific case and circumstances.
If a complaint was received of a tweet being posted, which was perceived to be offensive, Grampian Police would investigate the matter and take the relevant action, dependant on the exact circumstances.


Response from Strathclyde Police:

1 – Would you consider a UK posted tweet accusing a person of unblemished character and without any criminal record or allegations made to the police or any other authority (ie innocent) of being a ‘paedophile’ to be ‘grossly offensive’?
Strathclyde Police could not comment as to what would be considered ‘grossly offensive’ as this would be individual interpretation, should the individual consider the tweets as such then any report to the police would be made on this basis.
2 – If more than 3 such tweets were posted would you consider this to be a ‘course of harassment’.
Section 39 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Scotland Act 2010 provides the following legislation which may be considered in relation to such conduct;

S.39 – Offence of stalking
(1) A person (“A”) commits an offence, to be known as the offence of stalking, where A stalks another person (“B”).
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), A stalks B where—
(a) A engages in a course of conduct,
(b) subsection (3) or (4) applies, and
(c) A’s course of conduct causes B to suffer fear or alarm.
(3) This subsection applies where A engages in the course of conduct with the intention of causing B to suffer fear or alarm.
(4) This subsection applies where A knows, or ought in all the circumstances to have known, that engaging in the course of conduct would be likely to cause B to suffer fear or alarm.
(5) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to show that the course of conduct—
(a) was authorised by virtue of any enactment or rule of law,
(b) was engaged in for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime, or
(c) was, in the particular circumstances, reasonable.
(6) In this section—
“conduct” means—
(a) following B or any other person,
(b) contacting, or attempting to contact, B or any other person by any means,
(c) publishing any statement or other material—
(i) relating or purporting to relate to B or to any other person,
(ii) purporting to originate from B or from any other person,
(d) monitoring the use by B or by any other person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication,
(e) entering any premises,
(f) loitering in any place (whether public or private),
(g) interfering with any property in the possession of B or of any other person,
(h) giving anything to B or to any other person or leaving anything where it may be found by, given to or brought to the attention of B or any other person,
(i) watching or spying on B or any other person,
(j) acting in any other way that a reasonable person would expect would cause B to suffer fear or alarm, and “course of conduct” involves conduct on at least two occasions.
(7) A person convicted of the offence of stalking is liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or to a fine, or to both,
(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both.
(8) Subsection (9) applies where, in the trial of a person (“the accused”) charged with the offence of stalking, the jury or, in summary proceedings, the court—
(a) is not satisfied that the accused committed the offence, but
(b) is satisfied that the accused committed an offence under section 38(1).
(9) The jury or, as the case may be, the court may acquit the accused of the charge and, instead, find the accused guilty of an offence under section 38(1).
In addition further legislation from a civil perspective which could be considered is as noted from the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 available on Legislation.gov.uk
Section 8 Harassment
(1)Every individual has a right to be free from harassment and, accordingly, a person must not pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another and—

(a)is intended to amount to harassment of that person; or
(b)occurs in circumstances where it would appear to a reasonable person that it would amount to harassment of that person.
(2)An actual or apprehended breach of subsection (1) may be the subject of a claim in civil proceedings by the person who is or may be the victim of the course of conduct in question; and any such claim shall be known as an action of harassment.
(3)For the purposes of this section—
• “conduct” includes speech;
• “harassment” of a person includes causing the person alarm or distress; and a course of conduct must involve conduct on at least two occasions.
(4)It shall be a defence to any action of harassment to show that the course of conduct complained of—
(a)was authorised by, under or by virtue of any enactment or rule of law;
(b)was pursued for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime; or
(c)was, in the particular circumstances, reasonable.
(5)In an action of harassment the court may, without prejudice to any other remedies which it may grant—
(a)award damages;
(b)grant—
(i)interdict or interim interdict;
(ii)if it is satisfied that it is appropriate for it to do so in order to protect the person from further harassment, an order, to be known as a “non-harassment order”, requiring the defender to refrain from such conduct in relation to the pursuer as may be specified in the order for such period (which includes an indeterminate period) as may be so specified,
but a person may not be subjected to the same prohibitions in an interdict or interim interdict and a non-harassment order at the same time.
(6)The damages which may be awarded in an action of harassment include damages for any anxiety caused by the harassment and any financial loss resulting from it.
(7)Without prejudice to any right to seek review of any interlocutor, a person against whom a non-harassment order has been made, or the person for whose protection the order was made, may apply to the court by which the order was made for revocation of or a variation of the order and, on any such application, the court may revoke the order or vary it in such manner as it considers appropriate.
(8) In section 10(1) of the M1Damages (Scotland) Act 1976 (interpretation), in the definition of “personal injuries”, after “to reputation” there is inserted”, or injury resulting from harassment actionable under section 8 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997”.

3 – Would your police force take action, and if so what?
Police action taken following receipt of such a report would not be prescriptive as all cases would be dealt with based on individual circumstances and addressed in a professional and effective manner.


Lancashire Constabulary

No reply, but this case involved a similar scenario and Lancashire Police investigated resulting in a successful prosecution.


Crown Prosecution Service

On Friday 22nd February, the Crown Prosecution Service replied:

I should make it clear that the CPS is not able to provide legal advice to individuals or organizations nor are we able to discuss hypothetical cases.  In such cases, independent legal advice should be sought.  The CPS are however able to provide general information about how prosecutors make charging decisions as well as how decisions in relation to allegations of offences committed via social media are approached.

All decisions to prosecute are taken on a case by case basis and in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

The Code for Crown Prosecutors contains a two stage test called the Full Code Test.  Firstly, prosecutors are required to consider whether there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. If there is sufficient evidence, prosecutors must then proceed to consider the public interest in bringing a prosecution. The evidential stage must be satisfied before the case can proceed to the public interest stage of the Full Code Test.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) also publishes public policies and guidance that provide further advice to prosecutors when considering particular types of cases. The various policies and pieces of guidance are expected to be followed by prosecutors and must be read in conjunction with the Code.

You may be aware that the DPP recently issued interim guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media (which are currently the subject of a public consultation accessible via this link.  The consultation closes on 13 March).  When making decision under the interim guidelines prosecutors have to balance the fundamental right to freedom of speech with the need to prosecute serious wrongdoing.

Prosecutors are asked to consider if the behaviour amounts to credible threats of violence to the person or damage to property and/ or whether the communications in question specifically target an individual or individuals as well as whether there is a breach of a court order. If a complaint does not fall within these first three categories, the communication is considered to fall within the fourth category and will be considered for whether it is, for example, in breach of section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 or section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

If communications sent via social media target a specific individual or individuals, they may be considered under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
For more details about the Code or any of our policies or guidance please go to our website, www.cps.gov.uk.

This would appear to suggest that for our scenario, prosecution via the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 would be the first option, with individual tweets being prosecuted using the Malicious Communications Act / Communications Act being an alternative.



Responses from Twitter:

Hello,

We have investigated the reported account and have found that it’s not in violation of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules) at this time. While it can be frustrating to hear this, removing content does not make the problem go away or solve the issue; rather, it usually makes the problem worse.

If contacted by law enforcement directly, we can work with them and provide the necessary information for their investigation of your issue. You can point local law enforcement to our Law Enforcement Guidelines here: https://support.twitter.com/articles/41949

We do investigate reports of abusive accounts but please remember we are not the police. While we can respond to police requests, we cannot actively contact the police to report incidents that you report to us. If something has gone beyond the point of a personal conflict and has turned into actual violent threats that you feel are credible, call the police.

It is also a good idea to contact a trusted individual such as a friend or family member. If you are dealing with a potential legal issue, please contact a lawyer. Twitter cannot provide legal advice.

In our experience, Twitter sent the same cut and paste response to every harassment or abuse complaint. Twitter, in our experience, have not removed tweets due to cyberbullying or cyberstalking. They have claimed, in the cases we’ve seen, to remove tweets if there is a credible death threat – however we have not been able to find any anecdotal or hard evidence of this on the internet. The apparently cut and paste responses seems to be automatically triggered by certain keywords in the victim’s complaint. This might suggest a human is not involved in the response process – although we’re happy to correct this assumption if it is incorrect. For example, complaints we’ve seen (sent by the victims) which have included the words ‘suicide’ or ‘kill myself’ all resulted in this response:

Hello,

A number of concerned people who follow you on Twitter have recently alerted us about potentially suicidal comments posted to your Twitter account.

In difficult times, it may help to speak to professionals when you need someone to talk to, who can assist you in coping with your current circumstances.

Remember there are people out there who care about you more than you realize. Please take the first step and contact a therapist or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or you may visit their website:

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

You are not alone.

Take care,

Notice, the message doesn’t match the complaint. The victim mentioned suicide – not “a number of concerned people.” Also, the response isn’t much use if you don’t live in the USA. One client told us that the above message was sent out after their son had committed suicide. Is that acceptable or responsible behavior on Twitter’s part?

‘Offensive’ Tweet complaints apparently provoke this message:

We understand that everyone has different levels of sensitivity towards content, and that you may feel uncomfortable with the posted content. However, Twitter provides a communication platform, and users may use our service to discuss controversial subject matter.

Here are some quick tips to help you with your situation:

* Do not respond to the user. We have found overwhelmingly that responding to a user who is intentionally attempting to aggravate you encourages that user to continue their behavior.

* Block the user. You can block the user using the blocking feature described here: https://support.twitter.com/entries/117063

* Learn more about how to deal with abusive users: https://support.twitter.com/articles/15794

If you believe the content or behavior you are reporting is prohibited in your local jurisdiction, please contact your local authorities so they can accurately assess the content or behavior for possible violations of local law. If Twitter is contacted directly by law enforcement, we can work with them and provide assistance for their investigation as well as guidance around possible approaches. You can point local law enforcement to our Law Enforcement Guidelines here: https://support.twitter.com/articles/41949.

Please note that we need to make sure we are in contact with the person directly involved or someone legally authorized to act on their behalf. It’s a strict policy, and we have it in place to prevent false or unauthorized reports. We’ll help the individual as soon as we receive an authorized report from them or their representatives. If you are in contact with the subject of the account, you should ask them to file a ticket.

If you’re concerned for your physical safety, please contact your local authorities for further assistance. Please let us know if you believe the behavior has escalated or otherwise violates our rules.

Whereas complaints of ‘violent threats’ seem to achieve this response:

While we understand your frustration and the severity of your issue, we have found that the reported account is currently not in violation of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules) at this time.

We have a policy against violent threats, but the content of this account lacks the specificity to meet the criteria of an actionable threat. While we cannot suspend or remove content for violation of this rule, it may be important to address the actual threat rather than the online posting alone.

We strongly encourage you to contact your local authorities to assess the validity of the threat. By contacting and working with your local authorities, you may be able to defuse the threat and address the root of the issue. Websites such as Twitter do not have the ability to investigate and assess a threat or apprehend and prosecute individuals.

If contacted by law enforcement directly, we can work with them and provide the necessary information for their investigation of your issue. You can point local law enforcement to our Law Enforcement Guidelines here: https://support.twitter.com/articles/41949

Keep in mind that removing the Tweet or other content makes it difficult for the threats to be investigated by law enforcement. Seeking suspension or removal of Tweets also may have the effect of encouraging the abusive behavior.

If you are dealing with a potential legal issue, please contact a lawyer. Twitter cannot provide legal advice. It is also a good idea to contact a trusted individual such as a friend or family member for support and advice. If you don’t have someone to talk to about what is happening online, there are many online resources that can help:

This all begs the question – what would it take for Twitter to remove cyberstalking? From the responses and cases we’ve seen, a violent threat isn’t enough,  a suicidal victim isn’t enough, and a dead victim isn’t enough. Does this attitude lend itself to liberty, free speech and political freedom; or simply facilitate misery for cyberbullying victims?

Responses from other organsations:

A civil liberties activist via Twitter, Jillian C York – a Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation – told us that freedom of expression was key and that Twitter did not have to mediate in harassment and stalking cases on their platform.

 

She then claimed we were despicable for trying to help victims of cyberbullying remove cyberstalking tweets from twitter by using their ‘report spam’ button (?!)

There were more tweets, which bordered on being unpleasant, aimed at our cyberbullying victim support supposedly censoring the freedom of expression rights of the cyberstalker – but we’re not going to print them here – the timeline is public, no doubt protected by freedom of speech. It’s a real shame that civil liberties groups which receive public funding appear to be fighting so hard to remove or limit the rights of victims to remove hurtful, hateful and unlawful material online. We pointed out that due process and abiding by local laws were central to underpinning freedom of expression in a democracy, but could not agree that Twitter do actually abide by laws and court orders. We don’t believe they do, based on our own experience, and Twitter’s own transparency report and transparency website.  It would appear that Twitter only abide by US criminal court orders and defamation court orders obtained in the United States – which is not a realistic if even possible option for victims of cyberbulling outside the US, and an avenue only open to seriously wealthy victims within the US. How many people have the facilities to find a $80,000 lawsuit to secure a US court order to remove unlawful material. Is that really what the EFF is suggesting – free speech and due process only if you’re rich and live in the USA?

Similarly, Patricia Cartes, head Facebook’s European Safety replied to us on Twitter:

- this in reply to an article here about Google refusing to abide by a court order to remove material on the grounds of privacy and harassment. So Google should not intervene regarding content, and should not remove material is ordered to do so by a democracy’s lawful judiciary. That sounds like corporate totalitarianism to us, or having your cake and eating it, at least. Civil liberties groups should be more concerned with their own agendas being hijacked and subverted. Is it plausible that advertising mega-corporations such as Google, Twitter and Facebook value civil liberties more than profits?  She also took great exception to us offering advice on removing material for Facebook in our eBook, claiming all the material was included for free in the Trust Center. We replied stating we wished it was, and we’d be only too happy to help and advise – for free. No response. In fact, none of the material in our eBook is featured in the Trust Center, including ten of Facebook’s own website complaint forms which are not linked to anywhere in the Trust Center. Why would Facebook seemingly try so hard to hide their own complaints forms?

Also, it’s not clear whether the Civil Liberties Groups’ much vaunted Communications Decency Act section 130 does in fact offer safe harbor provision in cases where the victim can clearly show the material to be unlawful in terms of local laws, or defamatory on its face. Read this Yale Law article which calls this belief into question. Put simply, the question has to be posed – is refusing to remove life-affecting harassment and stalking on the grounds of freedom of expression really upholding a civil liberty? It seems to be a desperate, inhuman and deluded argument – and brings into question the motives of those who cling to such a position. If in doubt, just spend five minutes talking to a victim. The ‘civil liberty’ is surely upheld in removing material which causes suicides and long term psychological harm. A ‘right to happiness’ is something a citizen in every democratic state should be entitled to.

To be fair, in our experience, Google and Facebook do have a good record of removing material due to local laws, and in particular Facebook does have a good record with very specific terms of service complaints – and it doesn’t always require expensive court orders. But they don’t make it easy for victims to make a complaint, and the complaint often requires three or four rounds or correspondence prior to removal. What we can’t understand is why Google and Facebook doesn’t promote this good practice, but instead choose to fight established European law – and to what end?

The least Facebook could do would be to publicize all of its removal and complaints forms so people can find them, and then make them simple to use so organisations like us have no need to write guides explaining how to complete them. If Facebook and Twitter don’t like us, do the job for us – deal with cyberbullying – in line with local laws and common decency. Facebook, Twitter and Google, and especially the civil liberties organisations seem to forget: our ‘model’ is a self-defeating one – our ideal target is to put ourselves out of use – to destroy our own ‘market’ – by creating a situation where no-one ever needs to use us due to the eradication of cyberbullying. We’re a non-profit, and we set out to give advice to enable people to remove genuine cyberbullying themselves. If the social media platforms want to improve their PR and ethics – take our ideas, make it easy for victims to remove genuine cyberbullying and leave us without a reason to exist. We’d be delighted – that’s our aim – not to have to exist. 



Further information and resources:

 

 

 

 Cyberbullying, cyberstalking and online harassment   a UK study
By RegainYourName.com Reputation Management

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