1. Criminal Online Harassment – is conduct meant to cause distress. In online defamation, online copyright infringement and breach of privacy cases there is no need for the conduct to be distressing. Online harassment can be conduct that causes financial hardship, or mental suffering. The conduct should have a threatening or troubling aspect. In criminal law if found guilty, the offender may both be charged under s. 2, of the Protection from harassment Act 1997 (“the Act”), which carries a maximum six months in jail, and may be issued with a restraining order under s. 5, which if breached may lead to five years jail time. Additionally, Cyberstalking may also lead to prosecutions under the Malicious Communications Act 1988, the Communications Act 2003, and s. 127 of the Communications Act 2003.
2. Stalking – an aggravated form of online harassment is stalking where the victim is being shadowed by the stalker. In the physical world this can be following the victim or continually phoning the victim. In the case of cyberstalking it will be in the form of continually posting disparaging and defamatory remarks about the victim, stealing their images, and posting disparaging videos about their victims online. The stalker would be continually monitoring any postings about the victim, and would continue their disparaging posts about the victim whenever the stalker found any information about the victim (positive or negative) on the Internet. Both stalking and harassment are classified as harassment. A company can be a stalker but cannot be the victim of harassment.
3. The liability test – the test under the Act is objective. The Defendant will be taken to have known that its conduct amounts to or involves harassment “if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to or involved harassment of the other”, s1(2) of the Act as amended. A course of conduct cannot be a single act. Since most people who harass others online are mentally ill, an objective test is appropriate as they probably do not know what they are doing is harassment.
4. Civil Online Harassment – proceedings for civil harassment are brought under s. 3 of the Act. A victim may sue for damages (for pain and suffering and financial loss), a restraining order, costs and interest. There is the same liability test is applied as in criminal harassment which is objective. However as these are civil proceedings the burden of proof will be on “a balance of probabilities”. So the burden to prove for example that the offender is the stalker and committed the acts complained of is lower than the test of “beyond all reasonable doubt” employed in criminal proceedings. This can be very helpful in the Internet world where stalkers usually post anonymously, impersonating other people, and under pseudonyms.
5. Plead related causes of action – in some cases it is possible to claim for civil online harassment, online defamation, online copyright infringement and breach of privacy in the same claim.
6. Online copyright infringement – is the theft (used in the colloquial sense) of creative property belonging to another on the Internet. Such property includes , text, photographs, music, and videos. Breach of rights under the Human Rights Act 1998 to privacy, and respect for home life may also arise out of misuse of photographs and Cyberstalking.
There is a misconception that deviant behaviour online tends to occur locally rather than internationally. Prior to the Internet perhaps only celebrities attracted stalkers from anywhere in the world. The Internet has changed that. Firstly, anyone can be a celebrity on the Internet. If you run a Twitter account that attracts thousands of followers or you are a celebrated blogger you are an Internet celebrity, and might attract envious people with a grudge. Secondly, the Internet does not go to the world, the world comes to the Internet. It is a “pull” media not a “push” media. The world comes to you and there is nothing to stop the unlawful conduct of a local offender going global instantaneously.