One of the unsavoury consequences of the emergence of smart phones and social media in recent years has been the surge in online attacks on individuals, whether in the form of libel, harassment or breach of privacy.

Technological developments have been wonderful in many ways, but the online world is also proving to be a minefield fraught with dangers. We have noted a significant increase in instructions from people needing urgent legal advice as a result of difficulties they are experiencing online.

Case Study 1

We were recently instructed by a successful businessman who was being subjected to a campaign of online harassment at the hands of a woman he had met at a high society party and they embarked on a whirlwind romance. When our client decided to end the relationship after only a few weeks, he had to endure a barrage of online abuse that became increasingly alarming.

First, our client received a torrent of offensive messages and several libellous allegations were posted on his Facebook account. Soon after, our client became aware of a number of fake LinkedIn accounts that she had set up in his name and used to further disseminate the libellous allegations. She also made direct contact with a number of our client’s LinkedIn connections and tried to cause as much damage as possible to his personal and professional relationships.

Our client also received a number of threatening and menacing text messages that caused him to feel particularly uncomfortable. Examples included: “I want my pound of flesh. I will do whatever it takes to get it” and “I am smart and I am strategic and I will stay on the right side of the law but I will cause the maximum embarrassment for you and I’ve got it all figured out”.

The following day the client received another message, this time saying: “I saw you today and you did not look good. I don’t think you saw me”. Our client found this message particularly distressing because he had been at home all day and the online harassment appeared to have commuted to physical stalking.

We were instructed to take immediate legal action to retrain these unlawful activities and we swiftly secured a civil injunction in the High Court, the terms of which prevented the defendant from:

  • communicating with our client in any way;
  • communicating with anyone else about our client (including with his business associates);
  • approaching within a specified distance of our client’s home address; and
  • posting information about our client on any website or social media accounts.

The injunction was made by way of a court order with a penal notice that made it clear that if the defendant disobeyed the order she would be found guilty of contempt of court and could be imprisoned. This was a very effective remedy for our client and it brought this upsetting episode to a swift and successful conclusion.

Case Study 2

We have also recently been instructed by a corporate lawyer working in the City who was seeking to prevent the distribution of nude photographs of herself. This was one of the first cases of what has now come to be known as “revenge porn”.

Our client had enjoyed a two year relationship with a younger man who was a musician and a model. During the course of their relationship our client had taken a handful of nude “selfies” on her iPhone and sent them to her then boyfriend.

When our client decided to end the relationship, the ex-boyfriend sent copies of the nude photographs to our client’s friends and family. He also threatened to send the photographs to our client’s employer and to publish them on billboards in Central London. Our client was understandably distraught.

We were instructed to take immediate legal action and once again we quickly secured a civil injunction in the High Court, the terms of which prevented the defendant from:

  • communicating with our client, her family and her business associates;
  • approaching within a specified distance of our client’s home address; and
  • harassing or intimidating our client in any way.

In addition, the court ordered the defendant to immediately and permanently destroy all the photographs of our client that were of an intimate nature and were in his control or possession.

In both of these cases, the distress was enabled by recent technological developments and we took immediate steps to injunct the individuals responsible and restrain their unlawful behaviour.

There is an online element to almost every aspect of our lives these days, including our personal relationships, and with this come certain perils. There are legal remedies available and in our experience the critical factor is to act quickly and decisively.