Online Bullying and Cyber-Libel

We have all encountered a bully in the playground. They thrive on a power differential. Generally that difference is in size. The bully is large, the bullied small. In the online world physical mass is of no consequence. The aggressor may not be physically more powerful, in fact the opposite is likely. The power differential comes from access. The bullied is unable to effectively address the attacks made upon them. The distance and sometimes anonymity of the aggressor makes it very difficult to put a stop to the attacks.

What is cyber bullying?

The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner states that Cyber Bullying is:

“Cyberbullying is the use of technology to bully a person or group with the intent to hurt them socially, psychologically or even physically.”

There are a number of ways that online bullying occurs:


This one of the most common forms of cyber libel – The repeated posting of abusive messages, texts, emails, posts, images, memes and videos. These attacks generally occur on a public forum such as Jessica Cleland family in mourning over cyber attackFacebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and the like. Whilst some see this as little more than a sophisticated version of playground name calling and teasing, the effects have been severe for some young people. Jessica Cleland was one such young person. In 2014 Jessica took her own life after two boys engaged in incessant online aggression. An article interview with the parents had them state that the police did not obtain the mobile device the communications were received on, nor did they contact Facebook and Twitter for the deleted message logs, nor have they questioned the young men involved. The coroner Jacqui Hawkins had this to say on the matter:


“I am satisfied that Facebook and text messaging were problematic for Jessica because (of) easy access to the internet on her phone meant that she was exposed to potentially upsetting communications 24 hours a day … online chat and SMS creates an environment where it is easier for individuals to say hateful and hurtful things without facing the immediate consequences of doing so.”

Derogatory posts do have a devastating effect on people, young or old. There are those amongst that group like Jessica that believes the only way to make the abuse stop is to take their own life. The desperation to make the hurt cease is well known to many who have suffered from bullying, online or otherwise. As Coroner Hawkins stated, the bullies can vilify others with no fear of immediate consequence, or any consequence in many cases.


twitter-icon-online-trollingDenigration and online trolling is also a problem for the heads of large social media companies such as Dick Costello, former CEO of Twitter, who addressed the issues with other staff released in leaked emails:

“We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years, we lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”

“I’m frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. It’s absurd. There’s no excuse for it. I take full responsibility.”

Twitter are making efforts to address the issue of bullying on its platform through the creation of a Trust and Safety Council. They have also added features and tools to make reporting online harassment easier.

Is it enough to deal with the tide of hate; rape threats, random posts of dead children, porn interjected into conversations and death threats.

The issues are bigger than Twitter, or any social media platform. The issue is not really the platform, but how humans are social. We can tweak the features, but the heart of the problems lies with how humans treat one another.


The hacking of high profile celebrity Icloud accounts and then posting over 500 nude pictures to 4chan and then to Reddit is the biggest public outings in online history. Media outlets called this Celebgate. Jennifer-lawrence-cyber-libelMore than 100 celebrities were exposed by this hack, most female. Stars such as Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, Vanessa Hudgens and Kim Kardashian may have been involved. Although Apple was initially blamed, soon litigator Marty Singer turned his sights on the biggest ISP of all. He issued a 100 million dollar lawsuit for not removing all of the photos. The Internet Giant responded to the suit saying that some celebrities in the images were clothed and did not violate DMCA guidelines. It also questioned to whom the ‘selfies’ really belonged.

Local Cyber Attacks.

It is not only the rich and famous that have had personal photos outed by hackers online. A recent scandal in Australia has centred around the release of high school girls photos on a pornography sharing site. The Daily Mail reports that over 70 high schools throughout Australia have been affected. Users request nudes from on another and will trade naked pictures of young girls they have already acquired for new pictures. Many requests are centred on a particular school or region, whereas some focus on an individual specifically. There have been over 2000 images uploaded on this site. Australian police say their hands are tied as the hosting for the site is over seas and it has no jurisdiction. The site had been taken down but was re-hosted again soon afterwards.

There are at least 70 schools are all across Australia involved, with 28 in NSW, 18 in Queensland, 15 in Victoria, five in the ACT, two in South Australia and two in Tasmania. There have been other reports of similar outings in WA. This is not an isolated instance. Some of the images were curated from other older sites such as the Brighton Grammar ‘Young Sluts’ Instagram account. The telling point here is that many of these images will never go away. It is impossible to track down every single shared image and for many of these young girls the legacy of a risque snapshot could haunt them forever.


Flaming often refers to an online fight or inflammatory comments made by one party on a social media platform. One Australian couple have had their Facebook flame war taken to court and settled

Ashley Madison Hacked

for $15,000. Although the legal fees the couple paid made the total amount over $80,000 in total costs have learnt that posting inflammatory and libellous comments online can be very costly. This article goes on to say that the couple uploaded images of posters around their local neighbourhood to Facebook. The images were liked, shared and commented upon by others in the tight knit island community. Those that shared the defamatory material could also have been sued for promulgating libellous content. Many do not understand that you do not have to be the author of a defamatory comment to be sued, one only needs to share that material.

This article has only scratched the surface of the huge upsurge in online defamation, bullying, flaming and shaming. It is clear that crime prevention is powerless to stop posts of material online, with wins in that arena being few and far between. Nor has law enforcement the resources to catch online criminals. The group that hacked the Ashley Madison, Impact Team, have not yet been charged, nor are likely to be. Prosecutions are difficult to prove. Most hackers take elaborate measures for anonymity and may never be caught.


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By |September 14th, 2016|Personal Injury Law|Comments Off on Online Bullying and Cyber-Libel