Breakthrough in hitting back against online harassment
Many people feel powerless against harassment and abuse directed at them online through social media and cyber comments on websites.
But one victim of what was called a “hellish” campaign of harassment and character assassination has just won $300,000 in damages in the NSW Supreme Court.
The victim held a senior position in a major bank and had what the court was told was an “outstanding reputation for honesty and integrity”. He became the target of a self-proclaimed consumer advocate who claimed to be acting on behalf of ordinary bank customers who had been treated poorly by banks and other service providers.
The court found that the ‘advocate’ hounded the bank manager with many emails and phone calls a day demanding a meeting without ever spelling out what his grievance was.
He became increasingly aggressive and threatening, then got really nasty.
He discovered the manager was gay and sent an email to 500 staff ‘outing’ the manager and naming his partner.
“I can break you mentally,” he said in one message.
Many of the threatening messages were posted on the advocate’s website along with a string of defamatory comments claiming the manager had bullied staff and destroyed the lives of customers. The defamation had gone public.
The manager got legal advice and sued his abuser for defamation. As he was defamed because of his job the bank funded the legal action.
The abuser initially tried to plead a defence of truth but was unable to produce any facts to support his argument.
The manager won his case, with the judge ruling he had been “utterly humiliated” without any suggestion of wrong-doing on his part.
Workplace law expert at Stacks Law Firm, Nathan Luke, said the case highlights the fact that there are ways through the law to get compensation for bullying and harassment even though it might be only on the internet.
“Where it is possible to identify the online abuser there are legal avenues to pursue justice, take on the abuser, and get compensation,” Mr Luke said.
“Bullying, harassment and abuse are against the law in all avenues of life, not just in the workplace. Where personal harassment campaigns were once confined to letters, the workplace, the school playground, the cafe or the pub, the internet now makes that harassment open for everyone to see.
“Anyone who feels harassed, bullied or defamed should seek expert legal advice as there may be avenues of law to pursue to get proper compensation, or at least to get the internet platform to take down the harassing posts.”
For more information, please see Internet trolls face huge penalties under proposed new laws.