Online bullying is any type of bullying that takes place online or through technological means. Cyberbullying (both the victim and the perpetrator are underage) or cyber harassment (the victim and/or the perpetrator are an adult) can take many forms. Online bullying can take the form of wounding or threatening messages via emails, text messages, group texts, or iMessage. It can occur on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other sites. Other instances of online bullying include lies or vicious rumors spread electronically through online message boards, online chat rooms, or in a variety of other locations.
There are harassers who impersonate their target by creating fake social media or email accounts. Still others post (or threaten to post) photographs or videos of a sensitive or intimate nature to hurt, shame or extort money. Essentially, online bullying is any means of electronic communication that can be used to threaten, intimidate, harass, or transmit insults. It can take on many forms, such as:
Trolling – deliberately provoking, upsetting, or attacking a victim through online means
Doxing – posting a victim’s personal information without their consent
Hacking –accessing a person’s online accounts to collect personal information or impersonate the victim illegally
What are the consequences of cyberbullying and cyber harassment?
The after-effects of cyberbullying and cyber harassment can range in severity from damaged self-esteem to significantly more dire consequences. According to a 2017 report released by PEW Research, online harassment can have profound real-world consequences, ranging from mental or emotional stress to reputational damage or even fear for one’s personal safety. Kids, teens, and even adults who are bullied may end up losing friends and facing a narrowed social circle.
Because cyberbullies and harassers can reach a target at any time and any place, victims often feel vulnerable and experience a significant amount of anxiety, fear, and depression. In particularly severe cases, the target of the abuse may engage in violent means or may attempt to injure or kill themselves. Victims of online harassment are often afraid or ashamed to come forward. That’s especially true when the persecution is sexual in nature or involves information, photographs, or videos that were originally intended to be private.
What victims and parents of victims must understand is that the problem won’t go away on its own. Cyberbullying isn’t simply a rite of passage for kids, and online harassment of any kind isn’t something that anyone should endure.
“False light” is a related concept describing a verbal or written statement that, while not technically meeting defamation’s falseness criteria, is intentionally misleading and negative. It’s only valid in some jurisdictions, and you typically can’t sue for both false light and defamation. Where these claims are accepted, the parameters are broadly similar to defamation’s, with the key difference that false light statements must be proven to be embarrassing or emotionally painful, rather than outright damaging to the claimant’s reputation.
The takeaway: If someone posts something untrue or misleading in a damaging way about you online, you may be able to sue them.
5. Laws and precedents pertaining to the removal of negative online content
Sorry for the mouthful, but it’s really important to convey the sheer scope of laws and court decisions concerning the posting and removal of negative reviews, images and other content. Some are great for the web reputation management business. Others...not so much.
Here’s a quick rundown of where things currently stand:
Booking photo / mug shot restrictions. Recently, some state legislatures have moved to limit the distribution and visibility of mug shots and booking photos—potentially damaging images that can persist years after a criminal conviction drops off your record (or, worse, after charges have been dropped altogether). Utah prohibits law enforcement from providing booking photos to websites that post them and then charge the subject for removal, which to us seems like a form of extortion. Oregon and Georgia compel website administrators to remove booking photos of state residents whose charges were dropped or never filed.
California’s online “eraser button.” California recently passed a law that compels website owners to provide an “eraser button” for minors who wish to erase embarrassing content that they created. For instance, the law compels social media sites to facilitate the removal of compromising, self-posted images at any time.
The European Union’s right to be forgotten. The EU made a major change to its digital laws with the “right to be forgotten,” an emerging framework that allows citizens to request the suppression of search results—not the removal of content itself, an important distinction—leading to embarrassing, defamatory or just plain unpleasant content posted on websites hosted within its jurisdiction. This rule is far broader than the DMCA, anti-defamation laws or anything else on the books in the U.S.
Levitt v. Yelp and the concept of “review extortion.” This was an important court case that shielded Yelp and other review sites from criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits under anti-extortion laws. In a nutshell, it states that review sites can charge individuals and companies to edit or remove negative reviews. However, such sites can’t threaten to post or promote negative content in lieu of payment—the content must already exist on the site and be posted by a third party.
Introduction - remove unwanted results from Google
Discovering your business has a bad search result associated with it, is a business owner's worst nightmare. All of the hard work you’ve put into ensuring your customers are satisfied with your product or service, may be thrown out the window as a result of one review which found it’s way to the top of your branded Search Engine Results Page (aka SERP).
If you notice a bad review, slanderous remarks, or other negative content showing up at the top of your branded search results, instinctively you would want it removed. Right?
Luckily, there are a handful of techniques and strategies, used primarily by companies in the ORM (Online Reputation Management) industry, to remove unwanted results from Google and make defamatory content vanish.
They are two ways to approach this issue:
Entirely removing the unwanted result or
Suppressing the unwanted result
This post will walk you through both.
There's a difference between removing content you have control over, vs. content that’s out of your control. Let’s start with the former:
Removing Content from Web Pages You Own/ Control
The need for this might arise when you’ve realized that you have pages that are no longer relevant for various reasons: old products or staff members, tour options you no longer offer, or pages that are simply causing duplicate content on your site.
The majority of website owners choose to simply delete the unwanted content. They probably do so because they don’t know any better. The problem with entirely deleting pages from your website is that since you’ve already established the pages on the net, they’re likely to be linked from other pages on your own site as well as external links from other sites (such as social media mentions, bookmarks, shares, or even plain old linkage).
When you delete the content, Google (and other crawl bots) immediately identify that page as a missing page, which may harm your SEO efforts and overall rankings.
There are three way to overcome this issue:
remove pages with the Google Remove URLs Tool via your Search Console account
exclude pages from being crawled using your Robots.txt file (if you’re using Wordpress, Yoast SEO is a wonderful tool for this)indicate that the page should not to be indexed using the “noindex meta tag” (this method is not as secure as the two methods above and may be a little tricky if you don’t know your way around coding).
Make sure to clean up after you and never leave a missing page by applying one of the three solutions above.
Removing Content from Web Pages You Don't Control
More often than not, a negative search result will appear on a page you don't own. Somebody may post a negative personal experience they had with your product, a bad review on social media, and so on. You know the drill. (Since this post is about removing negative results from Google, I won’t go into the hidden opportunity behind bad reviews, but rather recommend reading this article by Joel Goldstein on Lifehack on ways to turn negative reviews into positive results).
Since you don't own those sites, you’ll need help removing the negative content. It's not easy, but in many cases, it can be done.
There are two ways to do this:
1. Contact the website owner
Simply Reach out and ask them directly (but politely). For example, you can ask a blogger to remove their negative post. If you can explain why they should remove it, or how you can improve their experience with your product or brand, they may reconsider their stance on your company and even turn the bad review into a positive one.
Remember: Bad reviews don’t mean bad business, they create buzz (did anyone say Miley Cyrus?) and when handled right may even help future prospects in their purchase decisions by showing them you care about your customers.
2. Contact Google
Google offers several ways for website owners to remove wrong, personal, harmful or outdated content from their search results.
For example, publishing sensitive financial or personal information is against Google policies. Anything that can be used to commit fraud is not allowed. Offensive images or videos are also a violation. If you notice negative content that violates any of these policies, contact Google and ask for it to be removed. Bear in mind, the page will still exist, it would be just blocked from appearing in Google search results.
If the content you want removed is simply outdated OR the page no longer exists, simply use the Remove outdated content tool. Google is very strict about how to use and not use this tool, so use it only if the result snippet or the cached (stored) result in SERPs is different from the current page.
Suppress Negative Content with Reverse SEO
Reverse SEO, also referred to as search engine suppression, is a method used in the ORM industry to minimize the reputation damage of negative content.
Very much like SEO, which uses strategies to make your business more visible in SERPs, Reverse SEO uses a variety of techniques to suppress negative results on Google Search and other search engines, causing the positive pages to move above the negative ones so that nobody searching the name of your business will see the unwanted results.
This is the backbone of how ORM experts mitigate the impact of negative content about your brand. Much like fighting fire with fire. Instead of trying to remove content, you create more in an effort to bury the negative content in the search results.
In most cases, Reverse SEO is not only effective at removing negative content from the first few pages of search results, but it also works to strengthen your online branding and promote your business in a positive light.
Most searchers will only visit the first few links on SERPs. As you create SEO-focused content, your page rises to the top of the search ranks, while other pages move down. If you can get the negative content pushed to the third or fourth page, it's likely that consumers won't even see it.
When does cyber bullying and cyber harassment cross the line into criminal conduct?
In a number of cases, cyberbullying crosses the line into criminal behavior. What exactly constitutes a criminal act in relation to online harassment varies based on where the victim resides. Some states have enacted specific statutes that criminalize cyberbullying. However, even in states that do not have specific online harassment or cyberbullying statutes, criminal conduct can occur when it involves:
Sending sexual pictures (sexting)
Using embarrassing or false information in an extortion scheme
Making violent threats that cause the victim to fear for their safety
Repeatedly sending obscene communications
Making death threats against a victim or physically attacking or assaulting the target of the online threats
Harassing someone because of their race, religion, gender, or other aspects that may be covered under hate speech laws, or committing hate crimes
These and other acts can elevate cyberbullying and cyber harassment to a crime, which may provide the victim with additional legal options.
What are my legal options?
Aside from federal protection, each state has its own specific anti-bullying legislation. In addition, local school districts often have anti-bullying clauses in their rules and codes of conduct. For a comprehensive report of state-by-state cyberbullying laws, visit the Cyberbullying Research Center’s website.
Before taking your case to court, it is important to exhaust all other options. Collect a portfolio of evidence, including items such as screen shots, message logs, and downloaded files, in order to build a case. For minors, this information can be handed over to school administrators and the school board. For adults that are harassed or for minors for whom sufficient action is not taken at the school level, the next step is to take the case to court.
Many have found that civil lawsuits are easier to navigate than constitutional cases, which often continue over long periods of time before a resolution is reached.
Types of civil suits:
Invasion of privacy
Causation of physical or mental harm
Threats that are unprotected by the First Amendment
Intentionally causing emotional distress
When filling one of these lawsuits, a simultaneous injunction or a court order can be filed, mandating that the bully or harasser stops the harassment. In many cyberbullying cases, the courts have held the parents, students, and/or school district responsible, and the parents of the bully can be liable monetarily. In Ohio, for example, parents can be sued for up to $15,000 in certain civil cases.
Pursuing litigation involves risk and can be time intensive and costly, so experienced legal counsel is advised to help determine what path is most suitable for each individual case.
How can Webcide.com help?
Dealing with cyberbullying and cyber harassment entails a multifaceted approach specific to each individual case. Our attorneys provide comprehensive and empathetic counsel, providing a swift plan of action that may include a combination of the following steps:
Forcing creators of fake profiles to take them down
Erasing damaging online content
Contacting law enforcement to report any criminal activity
Formally contacting schools and workplaces so they can take administrative action
Obtaining restraining orders
Suing the harasser for monetary damages
Our practice is dedicated solely to Internet defamation, so our clients receive the most specialized and highly experienced counsel and representation. To learn more about our full range of legal services, including content removal, visit our Services Page.
How do I get started?
You don’t have to suffer in silence. Know that if you are being harassed, stalked, or threatened online, it’s not your fault. You have the right to control your digital space and identity — as well as your photographs and videos.
To discuss your specific cyberbullying or cyber harassment matter confidentially, contact us today.
Nonconsensual Pornography and Internet Privacy
Nonconsensual pornography is the distribution of sexual, compromising photographs or videos online without the victim’s consent. The photographs and videos may have been taken in secret, stolen through the hacking of emails and cellphones, or willingly shared with the perpetrator with the expectation that the content would remain private. In some cases, people may take this action because they are jealous of the victim or are motivated by anger and jealousy following a failed relationship or difficult break-up. In some cases, hackers and other individuals may attempt to hack or socially engineer accounts and then post sensitive photos online for money or simply for the trill of it. Nonconsensual pornography is deeply troubling and oftentimes humiliating. A growing number of victims must also deal with fear and anxiety when the perpetrator couples this online invasion of privacy with threats or when they are being harassed or stalked by strangers who saw their material posted. Internet privacy abuse extends far beyond revenge porn to include various forms of defamation, extortion, or unauthorized filming with hidden cameras. In some cases, the victims are lured into compromising situations and then photographed or filmed against their will.
What is revenge porn?
The most widely publicized and growing form of nonconsensual pornography is revenge porn, in part due to the popularity of sexting. When romance sours in the digital age, a person’s private pain can turn into a public nightmare if a vengeful ex-partner choses to retaliate by posting the victim’s explicit videos or photographs online. To date, there are over 2,000 revenge porn websites for perpetrators to utilize, along with the more traditional avenues, such as social media or simply forwarding the private images and videos directly to specific people, such as a victim’s parents, friends, or co-workers. The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) is a nonprofit organization that provides victims of revenge porn and other forms of online abuse with emotional support, technical advice, information, and advocacy. In their 2017 national study, the group found that 1 in 8 American social media users have been targets of nonconsensual pornography, and women are 1.7 times more likely to be victimized than men.
Is revenge porn legal?
Unfortunately, a federal law, the Communications Decency Act §230, protects many websites and social media sites from civil liability by providing immunity to online intermediaries for material posted by third-party users. Because of this law, Google, Facebook and other platforms are not liable for the posting of nonconsensual porn, nor are they required to remove it from their networks. In November of 2017, a federal bill addressing this issue was introduced, but its status is still pending.
As of January 2018, 38 states and Washington, D.C. have criminal laws directly pertaining to nonconsensual pornography. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of state laws in combatting nonconsensual porn is dependent upon where the victim and perpetrator live and where someone was when they viewed the images. In addition, laws are often ambiguous, and what is considered unlawful differs widely from state to state. For information on a specific state’s laws pertaining to revenge porn, visit our state-by-state Revenge Porn Laws list and interactive map at
What protection do federal and state laws provide to victims of nonconsensual porn?
Both federal and state laws are necessary to protect victims of nonconsensual porn. State laws are necessary to address conduct that does not cross state lines or implicate interstate commerce, while federal law is necessary for protection when state laws are limited by jurisdiction and/or the Communications Decency Act.
What are my options as a victim of nonconsensual porn?
Webcide.com was one of the first firms to focus 100% of its practice on Internet privacy and Internet defamation. As a result, our attorneys understand the myriad of factors that can influence each individual’s case; are highly versed in the everchanging federal, state, and international laws pertaining to nonconsensual porn; and are one of the most experienced law firms in dealing with the removal of the unwanted material from the Internet.
Time is of the essence in any case involving revenge porn or invasion of online privacy. It is critical to take action before the damaging material goes viral. Webcide.com’s attorneys act immediately to identify the source, remove the offensive material from the Internet, and punish the individuals responsible. When appropriate, we also file civil lawsuits for monetary damages and restraining orders against those who seized and distributed the material. In addition, if a crime has been committed, we will work with law enforcement to bring the guilty parties to justice.
Even when revenge porn is legal, many sites will agree to its removal.
Despite the limitations set by the Communications Decency Act and the inconsistency in state law protection, the rampant growth of nonconsensual porn and the community’s overwhelming outrage has persuaded several of the major platforms to develop terms of service (TOS) policies to help protect revenge porn victims. Even if a platform does not have relevant TOS policies in place, many networking sites will work with a lawyer who can show that the photo was posted without authorization. In cases where the image does not violate a site’s TOS and where the site is uncooperative, our attorneys can explain additional removal options pertinent to each individual case. Most importantly, we handle the entire removal process as empathetically and expediently as possible to minimize additional suffering and embarrassment.
Who can I hold liable for the unauthorized posting of my personal images and/or videos?
While it is possible to sue the poster of the images, it often takes work to uncover their identity. In many cases, the user may make use of “throwaway” accounts to post the offending media. However, through John Doe or Jane Doe lawsuits, our experienced attorneys often can secure a court order requiring the website to turn over the IP address of the poster. From there, the IP address can be linked through similar action with the relevant Internet service provider (ISP).
As a victim of nonconsensual porn, what actions should I take?
As a victim of revenge porn or other nonconsensual porn, it is imperative to act as quickly as possible to minimize the damage. The first step is to contact Webcide.com to understand your rights and what steps can be taken. In addition, it is extremely important to document everything pertaining to the case. This documentation includes capturing and printing screen shots of all related postings; search engine results for your name; texts, emails or other messages; “friend” requests; and anything else pertinent to the case.
How do I get started?
At Webcide.com, we believe that victims of revenge porn are not to blame, regardless of how the material was produced and published. We evaluate each case with discretion and empathy. You have the right to control your digital space and identity — as well as your photographs and videos.
If you or a loved one has been the target of revenge porn or other type of privacy intrusion, contact us today to learn more about our services and to discuss your specific matter.
Contact us today for a confidential and free consultation to find out if we can help you with your case.
Webcide.com works with online marketing experts to monitor and prevent intellectual property infringement and defamatory cyberattacks. Our team uses deep web search tools to help our clients monitor what is being said about them and discover unfair trade practice, counterfeiting, and infringement of intellectual property rights. Our team helps clients find out about these issues and address them before they get worse. Contact us today at (216) 373-7706or use the contact submission form.
Know Your Rights
Knowing your legal rights and responsibilities is critical to understanding and solving the internet-law related issues confronting you or your company. This Resource Center is a legal guide for people interested in learning more about common internet related legal issues.
Please keep in mind that this Resource Center is a work in progress and new information and content is in the process of being added.
Legal Claims Based on False Speech
What is a Defamatory Communication?
Is it Libel or Slander?
Can Dead People Be Defamed?
Defamation of Corporations and Partnerships
Defamation of Groups or Individual Members
Can An Opinion Be Defamatory?
Libel and Slander Per Se
Liability For Repeating Defamatory Statement
Proof of Harm Requirement for Liable and Slander Damages
Is Truth A Defense to Defamation?
Am I Liable for Republishing Defamatory Statements?
Defamation-Public Official (or Figure) vs. Private Person
Consent as a Defense to Defamation
Defamation & The Defense of Privilege
Tortious Interference with Contractual or Business Relations
Fraud or Misrepresentation
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Legal Claims Based on Privacy
Publication of Private Facts (Invasion of Privacy, Intrusion Upon Seclusion)
Using the Name or Likeness of Another (Intrusion Upon Seclusion, Invasion of Privacy)
Right of Publicity
Electronic Communications Privacy Act
Stored Communication Privacy Act
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
Legal Claims Based on Intellectual Property Rights and Publishing Content of Others
Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act
What is a Defamatory Communication?
Defamatory Communication is any communication that harms the reputation of another person or tends to lower his respect or confidence in the community. Defamation can be categorized as libel or slander. Libel may be words or pictures that are written or printed. Slander is defamatory words that are spoken or heard. If such words or pictures tend to cause a person to be viewed by others with feelings of hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear, or dislike, they are considered defamatory.
Defamation laws vary from state to state, but generally a person must prove that a statement was defamatory to make a claim. Most states also recognize that certain statements are defamatory per se, and therefore no proof is needed. These may include:
• Allegations that harm a person’s trade, profession or professional standing;
• Allegations that a person is infected with a sexually transmitted disease;
• Allegations that an unmarried person is unchaste;
• Allegations of criminal activity.
Elements of a Defamation Claim
The following must be established by a person who brings a defamation lawsuit against another:
• The statement was published by the defendant, meaning it was spoken or distributed to at least one other person other than the plaintiff;
• The statement provides enough information that the plaintiff is identifiable;
• The statement harmed the plaintiff’s reputation in some way.
In addition to these, a plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant was negligent in some way, either in doing something he or she should not have, or failing to do something he or she should have. If the plaintiff is a private figure, he or she must prove only negligence. If the plaintiff is public figure, such as a government official, he or she must prove actual malice, which is a reckless disregard for the truth of the published statement.
Finally, the allegation made about the plaintiff must be false.
Defenses of Defamatory Communication
Truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim. Even if a person has suffered some harm due to the publication of such statements, if the statements are true, he or she may not collect damages.
If the statements are false, but were expressed as the opinion of another or were not conveyed in a way that would typically reach anyone other than the plaintiff, the defendant may have a defense against a defamation claim. However, the element of publication is satisfied if a statement is made in a way that it would ordinarily reach others, such as loudly stating something in a public place, publishing a statement in a newsletter, or posting something on a bulletin board on the internet. If a statement is made as an opinion or a joke, but is taken seriously by a substantial minority or is deemed likely to be taken seriously by a reasonable person, this element is satisfied and the defamation claim may be successful.
Privilege also is a defense. For example, a person making statements in a court of law cannot be charged with defamation. Public officials making statements about other public officials in the process of performing official duties also are protected. There also is some protection for a reporter who relies on a public document or public official to report information that turns out to be incorrect. However, if such a statement is not tied to any public document or public official, republishing someone else’s defamatory communication, even if it is properly attributed, is not a defense.
If the Statute of Limitations has expired on a defamation claim, the plaintiff has no case. The length of time may vary from state to state, but generally the Statute of Limitations begins with the first date of publication.