Online Harassment

Our law firm is the recognized leader in the field of Internet Law. We are dedicated to defending the rights of website and cyber-harassment victims.

Cyber-harassment refers to harassing behavior that takes place online. With the advent of the Internet, chat rooms, and social networking sites, harassers can torment their targets with minimum effort and a few keystrokes. “One-click” bullying spreads personal and defamatory information to thousands of users in seconds. Electronic transmission is especially pernicious because harassers never have to face the targets of their uninvited behavior. Bullying seems impersonal when performed in cyberspace; except that it is not. In fact, being harassed or defamed over the Internet is very personal and, in many cases, can seriously injure a person’s reputation.

Examples of online harassment include:

  • Sending harassing emails
  • Posting derogatory entries or comments
  • Uploading unauthorized pictures or videos
  • Disseminating false or private information online
  • Encouraging users to “rate” or “tag” humiliating photos
  • Impersonating another user in a chat room
  • Spreading rumors through social networking sites
  • Publishing defamatory or libelous statements online
  • Creating false web pages or profiles to defame someone
  • Electronic infliction of willful, negligent, or repeated harm

Generally, defamation is a false statement that is harmful to someone’s reputation and published with malice or negligence. Online defamation can be a form of cyber-harassment. The author of the defamatory statement is legally liable. However, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) typically are not. Under 47 U.S.C. § 230, ISPs are not “publishers” of defamatory content posted by their users and are consequently “immune” from liability. Most courts interpret Section 230 to shield ISPs from defamation or libel claims arising out of third-party statements. Websites can only be held liable as publishers if they are directly involved in the creation of the objectionable content.

Although, websites are somewhat immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act, most Internet scholarship is now focused on repealing Section 230, or finding alternative ways to impose tort liability on websites. People realize that ISPs no longer need “protection” to encourage the development of the Internet. In fact, online harassment has flourished so quickly that online “reputation builders” have stepped in to delete defamatory content that ISPs refuse to take down. Legal scholars also argue that ISPs should be held to a standard of “reasonable care” in enforcing guidelines that protect visitors and allow them to “report abuse.” After all, victims of harassment have no real remedy beyond appealing to the website to remove egregious posts.

Fortunately, the California Penal Code provides victims legal recourse against perpetrators who intentionally place people in “reasonable fear” for their safety, or the safety of their family, by means of an electronic communication device. Penal Code section 653.2 holds online harassers liable if they electronically distribute, publish, e-mail, hyperlink, or make available for download “personal identifying information” such as a digital image or harassing electronic message for the purpose of “imminently causing” unwanted physical contact, injury, or harassment. This law addresses online harassment accomplished through a “third party” such as an ISP or message board and holds publishers of defamatory or harassing statements personally liable for tortious conduct. Under California law, perpetrators of online harassment, including defamation, are guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in county jail, a criminal fine, or both.

If you are the victim of cyber-harassment or online defamation, contact the experienced online harassment attorneys at the Law Offices of Salar Atrizadeh today. We have extensive experience litigating complex issues at the intersection of computer and tort law. Our firm has successfully handled all types of online harassment cases, including, but not limited to, claims involving defamation (e.g., libel and slander), cyberbullying, and cyberstalking. We are a full-service firm that offers its clients a wide range of professional legal services. At the Law Offices of Salar Atrizadeh, we strive to offer clients personalized representation in an increasingly impersonal world.