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can these posters be traced legaly?

(14 Posts)
confidentalnamechange Fri 08-Apr-16 13:00:24

A friend of mine has had an article posted about them in a local newspaper. A few of the comments in the online version have been very cruel, stating lots of lies and posting them as "fact", claiming to work with her, so obviously what they are saying is true hmm . She is in a terrible state about this, almost suicidal, her husband is very worried. It is obvious who the posters are due to the nature of the comments. Due to the nature of her job (and of the posters) it is against their registration Code of Conduct to post inflammatory things online especially in the press.

Is it worth her seeking legal advice to see if the posts can be removed, and even better if the posters can be traced via the newspaper log on (you need to enter an email address), reported to HR and liable action taken? Sorry this is a bit garbled, I'm trying to word it as not to identify her or the article.

The posts have been "reported" by a few readers, on the actual comments but they still remain. She is too frightened to phone the newspaper in case they make another story out of it. Thanks.

guerre Fri 08-Apr-16 13:05:37

Unless they are slandering (libelling) her, I don't think there's much one can do. It's just their opinion, and it differs from hers.
If, for example, they were saying she was rubbish at her job and a child died (just for example, if she was a doctor or something) and that was untrue, there would be grounds to have the comments removed.

confidentalnamechange Fri 08-Apr-16 13:13:19

Lots of the things they are saying is untrue. They are saying she has been guilty of fraud and suspended, which is a complete lie. And that she is a bully and many many members of staff have left because of her, again completely not true. Would these comments be ground for liable?

AnchorDownDeepBreath Fri 08-Apr-16 13:15:30

Guerre is right - it will depend very much on whether the comments are someone's opinion (albeit an upsetting opinion), or if they are libellous, and if it is libel, whether it can be proved to be so.

If she got a solicitor involved, and they agreed it was slander, they'd put pressure on the newspaper to remove the slanderous comments. They usually try to avoid legal action, so they wouldn't request information about who posted the comments. If the poster of the comments is anonymous, UK defamation laws means the website can be held liable for them additionally. This means it's quite easy to get them to remove libellous comments. A solicitor would also look at getting the comments removed from search engines.

It would be unusual and potentially expensive to force the website operator to give up the identities of the people who left the comments, but it would be possible. Some websites require law enforcement to be involved before they'll respond to requests for this type of information. In that case, you'd be pressing criminal charges rather than reporting to HR, although you could do that too. HR are unlikely to act whilst there are ongoing criminal investigations, though. You could also report to their Code, as you've said.

First step is to ascertain if the comments are libellous, though.

MadamDeathstare Fri 08-Apr-16 13:16:29

I'm have absolutely nothing to do with the legal field.

Would this be covered by 'defamation of character'? The comment would have to be something truly hateful, an opinion that a reasonable person would not hold and that was clearly motivated by hate rather than facts. It would also apply if your friend had been damaged in her work by the comments.

If the comments reflect poorly on your friend's employer, then possibly she could go to her HR department and see if there is anything they can do. I doubt they would like to see vile comments about one of their employees in the local press. They might have more success with getting the newspaper to close that particular comments section and remove the slanderous remarks than a private citizen. They might also have a word with the perpetrators using the phrases 'cyber bullying' and 'creating a hostile work environment' so that the commentators take down their own comments.

Hopefully someone who actually has legal experience will be along.

guerre Fri 08-Apr-16 13:34:43

There is no way to prove whether or not she is a bully, I'm afraid.
Obviously, someone can prove another has been convicted of fraud, however I do not see how one can prove one has not been convicted of fraud IYSWIM. Unless they had been tries for fraud and the case thrown out, or been found not guilty.

confidentalnamechange Fri 08-Apr-16 14:25:40

Thank you everyone this is really helpful. With regards to the fraud claim, some years ago there were several handwritten (same handwriting according to HR) anonymous letters send to the company fraud department, stating she was committing overtime fraud. This was fully investigated and she was squeaky clean. HR said the letters were malicious but as they were anonymous they could take no action. She knows it is a disgruntled employee, probably the same person in both cases, but it doesn't change the fact these lies are now online for all of her family and friends to see. She doesn't want anyone of us to post in her defence as it will just result in a big ongoing argument. The company does have a legal team Perhaps they could act on her behalf. If they contact the paper, would it be in confidence or could the paper post a comment to say they have been contacted? Oh it's such a mess for her I could weep as I know how ill this is making her sad

Scootergrrrl Fri 08-Apr-16 14:31:59

As the publisher of whatever is being said about your friend, the newspaper would be legally responsible in any libel case. It's the same as, for example, someone using Mumsnet to defame someone. The law on libel is very clear and it's the publisher's responsibility, as far as I know, to make sure what they print or publish is true.
If it's a reputable newspaper, telling them what's being said is untrue and asking them to take it down should be enough. I know you've said your friend is desperately upset by the whole thing and doesn't want to contact the paper but it really would be the best course of action.

ghostoftheMNchicken Fri 08-Apr-16 14:38:37

Online harassment and trolling is illegal too (under the malicious communications act). Report to 101.

www.herts.police.uk/advice/child_protection/child_online_safeguarding_team/trolling_and_cyberbullying.aspx

ghostoftheMNchicken Fri 08-Apr-16 14:40:38

More helpful info here:

www.bbc.co.uk/webwise/0/24955662

confidentalnamechange Fri 08-Apr-16 14:44:23

Thank you so much.

prh47bridge Fri 08-Apr-16 17:56:19

As the publisher of whatever is being said about your friend, the newspaper would be legally responsible in any libel case

That is not true. The newspaper is not liable for comments posted on its website. However, as the comments allege fraud, they are potentially libellous. The OP can serve notice on the newspaper under Defamation Act 2013 S5 requiring them to remove the comments concerned and provide any information they have that would help to identify the poster(s). If the newspaper fails to comply the OP can take action against them for libel. If she can identify the poster(s) the OP can also take action against them for libel or, if she prefers, threaten to do so if they post such comments again.

guerre - If it did go to court it would be up to the poster(s) to prove that their statements were true. The OP would not have to prove that she had not committed fraud or that she was not a bully.

MadamDeathstare Fri 08-Apr-16 19:10:23

I read the wiki entry on defamation of character (because that is such a sound source on all things legal) and it did look as though it would be up to the detractors to prove their comments are valid, not motivated purely by hate, and are things that a reasonable person would believe.

As they seem to have made the charges of fraud up out of pure maliciousness I think they would have trouble in a court case.

BeckyMcDonald Fri 08-Apr-16 23:36:41

What prh47bridge said is correct. But she really does need to phone the newspaper, ask to speak to the editor off the record, and tell them the comments are untrue, are defamatory and they should remove them. Follow this up with an email. At my paper we'd take down comments like that immediately.

Unless your friend is very rich, she's probably not going to be able to afford to sue for libel.

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