Cyber-bullies, people who hide behind the internet's curtain of anonymity in order to bully, stalk and otherwise harass their targets, can inflict a great deal of damage on your life. What do you do if you've been targeted by someone who seems intent on using the internet to hurt you in any way that he or she can, but you don't even know who he or she is?
What Kind Of Damage Can A Cyberbully Do?
Cyberbullies can disrupt your entire existence, depending on how internet-savvy they are. Activities can range from simply harassing you on your social media accounts and bashing you on theirs, or it can evolve in activities that are illegal.
A cyberbully might create false profiles on social media sites, pretending to be you, and admit to all sorts of awful things, including sleeping with multiple sex partners, using drugs, or stealing. There have been instances of cyberbullying where ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends have uploaded nude photos of their victims to public websites, in a tactic called "revenge porn," which has been criminalized in one state and is under legislation to do so in others.
Aside from intense emotional damage, cyberbulling costs its victims money as well. Some victims have had embarrassing information (some true, some not) emailed to employers, costing them promotions or jobs. Professional victims have had reputations ruined and clients lost. Because of privacy concerns or fear, victims have relocated, changed locks, and hired bodyguards. The average victim spends $1,200 on expenses related to the harassment.
How Can You Respond?
In some cases, there have been successful criminal prosecution of cyberbullies, but in other cases victims are taking their attackers to civil court instead. Lawsuits over the intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation of character are being used to turn the tables on these internet bullies.
How Do You Prove The Identity Of The Defendant?
If you're being victimized, the chances are good that you have an idea who it is that's targeting you for his or her attacks. However, you have to be able to prove that person's identity in a court of law in order for any civil suit to be successful. Since internet bullies typically hide behind usernames and false identities, it can seem an impossible task, but it isn't.
Victims can file their lawsuits against a "John Doe" defendant, and issue a subpoena to the internet service provider (ISP) through which the attacks came, asking the ISP to identify the defendant's real name.
ISPs will usually notify the intended target of the lawsuit, the bully, who can hire an attorney and try to quash the subpoena, under the idea that his or her actions are protected as "free speech." In cases where the attacks are obviously specific and hurtful, it can be difficult for a defendant to make a case, and the courts usually allow the ISP to turn over the defendant's name so that the lawsuit can proceed.
If you are the target of an internet bully you don't have to sit back and let yourself be victimized. Don't assume that you won't be able to prove the bully's identity, either, no matter how cleverly he or she tries to hide it. Talk to an attorney to discuss your options of a civil litigation lawsuit, because even if the behavior isn't considered criminal, it may be enough to successfully pursue a civil claim against your would-be bully.