How to Fight Back Against Anonymous Online Attacks

In today’s digital age, individuals and businesses are more vulnerable to anonymous online attacks than ever. It takes little effort to write a number of fake reviews or set up fake social media profiles from which to launch attacks. Attackers abuse the privacy policies of the social media platforms and online review services they use to mask their identities. This allows the attackers to anonymously leave defamatory reviews about a business, or send harassing messages to an individual or an individual’s loved ones. These anonymous online attacks can severely harm or even destroy a business’s reputation and the livelihood of its owners. Beyond that, cyberstalking and cybersmearing can tear apart relationships and inflict untold amounts of stress and emotional injury. Ultimately, this conduct is not only malicious, and harmful, but it can be illegal in some circumstances.

Examples of anonymous online attacks include:

  • Defamation;
  • Cybersmearing;
  • Cyberstalking;
  • Impersonating an individual online;
  • Disseminating private information;
  • False negative reviews;
  • Fake “review” websites containing negative “reviews” of a business’s products or services;

Determining the real identity of these individuals can be difficult and time consuming. To make matters worse, Illinois law provides a relatively short one-year statute of limitations for defamation actions. Obtaining information from social media companies like Facebook or Twitter or from review sites like Yelp can be difficult as these companies often refuse requests to divulge the identity of users voluntarily. Obtaining this information often requires subpoenas and protracted litigation to enforce such subpoenas. Despite these obstacles there are several steps a business or individual can take to fight back against these malicious online attacks. It is always advisable to retain the services of an experienced libel, slander, and cybersmear attorney who knows the law and can provide practical advice for combatting and mitigating the effects of vicious online attacks.

Tips for Fighting Cybersmear

If you or your business have been the victim of defamatory or false posts, reviews, or cybersmearing here are some practical steps to consider:

  • Posting a measured, respectful response to the defamatory post or review. Most review sites permit responses to reviews left by posters. Business owners should have an attorney draft the response to ensure that the response is not emotional and complies with all applicable privacy requirements (e.g. HIPAA or Rules of Professional Conduct).

  • Preserve the posts and screennames used by the attacker (e.g. taking screenshots) as often times, the attacker will attempt to remove their defamatory posts or “scrub” the internet of their false posts.

  • Review the policies and guidelines of the websites where the defamatory statements or reviews are posted to determine if you can have them removed for violation of the website’s policy against abusive, defamatory, infringing, or unlawful activity.

  • Think beyond defamation. If someone is using your likeness or posting your photographs online without permission, consider turning to copyright law to have them removed. This could entail having your attorney send a cease and desist letter (also known as a “takedown notice”) to get the content removed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DCMA”).

  • Consider whether the website is in violation of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”). While the CDA provides service providers with broad immunity from liability for the speech of third parties, this immunity may not apply if the service provider took part in the creation of the content.

Rule 224 Petitions

Due to the anonymous nature of the internet, it can feel like a Herculean task to determine the identity of the individual behind the defamatory and libelous postings. Fortunately, Illinois law provides a mechanism for filing suit to determine the identity of an anonymous poster. The Chicago libel attorneys at Lubin Austermuehle have litigated Rule 224 petitions and are familiar with the requirements and procedures necessary to obtain this pre-suit discovery. In a Rule 224 petition, the plaintiff files a verified petition stating the nature of the claim and naming the individuals from whom the plaintiff seeks to obtain discovery. A judge will review the petition and enter an order authorizing the plaintiff to issue the requested discovery.

Fighting against an anonymous online attacker can be a major distraction for your business and personal life. Ignoring a cyber-smearer is not an option and can cost your business money and customers as your company’s reputation is assailed online. If you or your business is the target of a libelous cybersmear campaign, it is advisable to consult an experienced internet defamation attorney such as the attorneys at Lubin Austermuehle to help minimize the impact of online libel, identify the anonymous attacker, repair your company’s reputation, and potentially recover damages for the harm inflicted. You view our record in defamation cases here.

Based in the Chicago area, our internet defamation and cybersmear defense lawyers bring decades of experience to these types of lawsuits. We are dedicated protecting the free speech rights of our clients embodied in the First Amendment and defending them against lawsuits attacking those rights. Lubin Austermuehle PC has offices in Elmhurst and Chicago, Illinois and represents clients in the greater Chicagoland area and throughout Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. To schedule a consultation with a Chicago internet and cyber smear defamation defense attorney, contact us online or by telephone at 630-333-0333.

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