At Aeton, we are knowledgeable Internet attorneys and we can advise you on lawsuits for damages and emotional distress inflicted by bad ratings, anonymous comments, online bullying, stalking, invasion of privacy, or harassment. Technology changes faster than lawmakers can create protections against misuse. Consequently, lawyers trying to stop threatening and harassing behavior on the Internet and social media have to rely on tort laws and lawsuits designed around decades of case law from before the Internet was in widespread use. These cases are rarely straightforward and overlap with various legal disciplines.
Additionally, to the extent that social media companies will not cooperate, lawsuits and subpoenas may be available in certain cases for lawyers to access information on anonymous users. Furthermore, we utilize takedown letters, cease and desist demand letters, and the prospect of a lawsuit to stop online harassment and bullying if the user has been identified. Finally, if all of these methods fail, or if a particular situation warrants immediate attention, we may serve as attorneys to represent clients with a lawsuit for defamation, invasion of privacy, or infliction of emotional distress in court.
Internet Bullying, Harassment and Invasion of Privacy
In Connecticut, the tort of invasion of privacy has been used as one method to combat the negative impact of online harassment. Invasion of privacy involves unreasonable intrusion upon the seclusion of another, appropriation of another’s name or likeness, unreasonable publicity given to another’s private life, or publicity that places others in a false light before the public. The law was officially recognized by Connecticut courts back in 1982, well before the widespread use of the Internet. Nevertheless, lawyers in Connecticut are finding ways to utilize this law to address online harassment cases.
Some examples of cases where invasion of privacy might be available include:
- Revenge Porn or Releasing Private Photographs. This type of case may involve a spurned boyfriend or girlfriend causing harm by releasing to others or posting online intimate or private photographs. The key aspect of these claims concerns the disclosure of intimate information obtained in confidential circumstances. Although the Connecticut legislature is currently considering formal legislation for so-called “revenge porn,” there is no specific Connecticut law that currently covers this type of event, and, therefore, a lawsuit for invasion of privacy or infliction of emotional distress may apply.
- Accessing Private Emails or Social Media Profiles. A common tactic for internet harassment involves accessing another person’s personal accounts for e-mail or social media, such as Facebook or Google+. Other cases involve creating fake profiles under the name of the victim and posting damaging information or making outrageous statements online, thereby inviting others to attack or criticize the real user. Almost always, these situations are caused by anonymous users. The help of an attorney may be needed in uncovering the identity of the user or requesting that the social media company shut down the fake profile.
- Impersonation or Identity Theft of Passwords to Access Online Profiles.
Internet Defamation and Reputation Management
In today’s business environment, a favorable online reputation is critical. At Aeton, we receive many inquiries from professionals, doctors, lawyers, and business owners concerning bad reviews on the Internet, false and defamatory statements, and poor ratings. Ratings sites include Yelp, Google +, AVVO, Healthgrades, RateMDs, and various other specific sites related to professionals, such as doctors and lawyers. Many times, it is not possible to convince Yelp or other websites to remove a review or rating. Typically, litigation is not successful against the company providing the review.
In other cases, competitors can seek to harm each other through false claims and misstatements on blogs and anonymous online forums. Getting to the bottom of these cases can be difficult. However, there are sometimes ways to find out the identity or location of an anonymous poster through a lawsuit.
The reason an anonymous user may not be anonymous concerns IP addresses. To put a comment online or on a blog or website, a user must access the Internet provided by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) through Connecticut towns and cities. SHOULD THIS BE DELETED? That is typically done by way of a subscription agreement with an ISP like Comcast, Cox, Charter, AT&T, or smaller providers. In a typical residential situation, a single public Internet Protocol (IP) address is a numerical label assigned by your ISP that your router shares with all devices in a home.
When you visit websites or post defamatory comments online, you leave behind a trace of your IP address. Obtaining this information is not as simple as you might think. Internet services providers, cellular companies, and social media websites are inundated with requests for this type of information. Navigating their policies and the legal issues that come with lawsuits for anonymous comments can be complex.
Inappropriate cases, attorneys can be used to subpoena an ISP, such as Verizon or AT&T, in New Haven or Hartford for access to text messages or to find out a user profile or the source of online activity. Once a user is identified, other claims can be made, such as defamation. Depending on the nature of the comments, a professional may be able to make a defamation claim in a lawsuit without proving actual damages. These claims are known as defamation per se.
School Children and Cyber Bullying
Unfortunately, bullying is pervasive in online forums, websites, and social media sites. Most of us saw or experienced some kind of bullying in our youth. Today’s bullying is a different type. Internet bullying or cyberbullying reaches around the world in seconds and allows no escape for the victim even when they return home. The Internet never shuts down and kids have a tendency to check and recheck online posts every minute. Bullying and harassment happens online on blogs, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Instagram, as well as through text messages, sexting, video games, and instant messaging devices.
Sadly, the results of this new, harsh bullying online can be devastating to the victim and especially school-aged children. Many parents are shocked and stunned when they learn what children are saying and doing to each other online.
When bullying occurs with students, it may be necessary to immediately involve the school administrators, superintendent, or principal with a formal complaint or letter of demand by an attorney. This is particularly important if parents find that their concerns about bullying are being ignored by the school. This includes not only public schools, but private institutions as well.
Forcing a school district to take action can be a critical step to stopping the behavior. Connecticut recently amended the bullying laws on the books to include cyberbullying. The law expands bullying to include cyberbullying, which it defines as acts of bullying carried out through mobile electronic devices (i.e. cellphone, smartphone, iPhone, Samsung phone, and laptop), other electronic communications, the Internet, and interactive and digital technologies. Examples include text messaging and paging devices, personal digital assistants, laptops, video gaming devices, digital video disk players, and digital cameras.
Criminal Charges and School Suspension for Social Media and Sharing
We have advised students facing potential criminal charges and school discipline for various matters related to technology, as well as their parents. There have been numerous incidents across Connecticut and nationwide involving cases of potential charges and discipline for students on social media, including those involving: sexting; sharing of photographs through texting or social media sites, such as Snapchat and WhatsApp; phony profiles on Facebook and Instagram; and the passing around of screenshots of text messages. Many parents expect that these incidents will be treated at the local school level only to find out too late that the school involved the police. The media also gravitates towards these stories. Once the school, police, and media become involved, the incident can go viral nationwide.
It is very important to consider getting an attorney to navigate these cases early in the process before they get out of control. Although all cases are different, Aeton Law Partners typically charges a flat fee to provide a confidential attorney conference to review these matters. If additional representation is needed, we typically handle these claims on an hourly basis.
Contact us today to discuss Internet and technology-related lawsuits and claims at 860.785.2099.