How to Fight Back Against Anonymous Online Attacks
By Liana Chen, Attorney
We live in a time when anyone can anonymously attack another person online. It’s as simple as creating an anonymous blog or setting up a fake online social media profile, and then the attacks begin. Attackers hide behind privacy protection policies of fake social media accounts and free email services, as well as various web services that can mask a person’s identity. This allows them to make fake and defamatory comments about a business, or impersonate or harass an individual. Malicious attackers can defame you, inflict a variety of types of harm, and even destroy your reputation and business. Ultimately, this is malicious, devastating, and sometimes illegal.
Malicious anonymous attacks can include:
Tracking the real identity of these individuals is difficult. Readily available software can hide the malicious individual’s IP address, web activity, and precise location. And, social media companies often argue they have no obligation to preserve or retain user information that has been deleted, trying to wash their hands of responsibility. So, how can you fight back against these anonymous individuals?
If you’ve been a victim of defamatory or false posts, here are some steps to consider:
Monitor and preserve the posts and all public usernames associated with the posts and the content.
Research website guidelines to request that the website remove abusive, infringing, or unlawful activity. Abide by the guidelines and make sure you have copies before requesting to remove the content.
Consider a copyright claim. For instance, if your photographs are posted without your permission, you may have support for a “takedown notice” to get the content removed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §512.
Review exceptions to the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. §230 (CDA). Service providers will often cite the CDA to assert immunity for third-party speech. However, if the service provider was part of the creation of the content posted, then the immunity of the CDA may not apply.
It can feel like whack-a-mole game if the perpetrator continues to create fake profiles and post malicious content about you. If this happens, you could file a lawsuit to get the content removed, identify the anonymous actor, and/or try to recover damages.
In California, plaintiffs can file a “Doe lawsuit” against unknown “Doe” defendants and then petition the court to serve early discovery requests to identify the defendants. (See Krinsky v. Doe 6, 159 Cal. App. 4th 1154 (2008).)
For example, let’s say that an unnamed business competitor is creating fake Facebook accounts to disparage your company while pretending to be a customer. To discover the source, you could file a lawsuit and petition the court to serve subpoenas on Facebook and other service providers to obtain identifying information about the account holder.
It’s not uncommon to find traces of evidence that link back to the defendant, even when he or she uses tactics to hide misconduct. But, uncovering these links requires experienced counsel to review potential claims and lead the discovery effort with subpoenas to service providers. And, it may typically require multiple rounds of subpoenas as well as other strategies.
Fighting against an anonymous online attacker, whether for malicious reviews or unyielding harassment, is highly demanding. It can be a major distraction to your business and your personal life. So, if you or your business is the target of such attacks, contact us immediately to help minimize your burden, and get your life on track again.
This entry was posted on Sunday, October 21, 2018 and is filed under Resources & Self-Education, Internet Law News.