[Explicit language in this critically important message]
Ashley Judd’s (actor, activist) powerful TED Talk about online hate speech, sexual harassment and threats of violence against women and marginalized groups. Ms. Judd believes it’s time to take the global crisis of online abuse seriously and I agree. In this searching, powerful talk, Ms. Judd recounts her ongoing experience of being terrorized on social media for her unwavering activism and calls on citizens of the internet, the tech community, law enforcement and legislators to recognize the offline harm of online harassment. [Note: explicit language depicts actual harassment experienced by not only Ms. Judd, but millions of other online victims]
I was moved at the Periscope Summit in NY by several members of a panel sharing from the stage their stories about how trolls had bullied and shamed them and tried to ruin their live streaming events. Stories about how trolls caused a great deal of anguish and hurt feelings to the broadcasters and members of the audience were hard to hear.
What trolls put these people through really upset me. I have always had a zero tolerance for bullies (that’s one reason I became a lawyer) and in today’s world, this zero tolerance also applies to trolls and anyone else using the digital platforms to harm others.
To help others deal with this issue, we’ve shared and will continue to share different posts and shows showing people who to deal with trolls. In some cases, we even show you how to bring trolls to their knees and make them disappear. Past and upcoming show links are posted above and below. Also use the search bar to find posts specifically on topic.
Some of the methods we discuss have resulted in trolls being blocked, fined, and sent to jail. Massive value will be shared including approaches you’ve probably never considered, together with links, templates and more.
I have a zero tolerance for trolls and online bullies and believe you should too. I truly believe we can empower each other, and our awesome audiences, to substantially reduce and even eliminate them from all of our online events and I hope some of these approaches and resources will help.
PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT NO LEGAL ADVICE IS BEING GIVEN. ALTHOUGH I AM A CALIFORNIA TRIAL LAWYER, I’M NOT YOUR LAWYER. NO ATTORNEY/CLIENT RELATIONSHIP IS FORMED BECAUSE OF OUR COMMUNICATIONS. IN FACT, A WRITTEN SIGNED AND DATED RETAINER AGREEMENT IS ALWAYS NECESSARY TO CREATE AN ATTORNEY/CLIENT RELATIONSHIP WITH ME OR ANY OTHER MEMBERS OF MY FIRM. PLEASE REACH OUT TO FORMALIZE OUR PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP IF YOU WOULD LIKE OUR HELP OR, CONSULT WITH A LOCAL ATTORNEY IF YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS OR LEGAL NEEDS. STRICT TIME LIMITS APPLY TO CLAIMS. A FAILURE TO TAKE CERTAIN MANDATORY STEPS MAY BAR YOU FROM PURSUING A CLAIM. ALSO PLEASE NOTE THAT I’M LICENSED TO PRACTICE LAW IN THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA. Click here to read the full disclaimer.
Internet trolls come in all shapes and sizes. For purposes of most of the social media platforms, I will be referring to two types of trolls: (1) recreational trolls and (2) criminal trolls.
Recreational trolls are usually bored and want attention. Some are nasty individuals using online anonymity to disrupt other people’s live streams. They show up, do their thing, and eventually leave.
Criminal trolls use the same approaches in a much more aggressive fashion. They are cruel and hateful and display an intent to destroying reputations and businesses.
Both kinds of trolls want an audience and public forum. Both kinds of trolls can be stopped using these approaches and techniques.
Tools and Approaches
There are several different ways to deal with recreational trolls. Here are methods I recommend:
1. Ignore the trolls. Avoidance is the best policy- Simply ignore the trolls. Don’t feed them with content. Unfollow and block them.
2. Call trolls out– Without specifically referencing the troll, address the issue with your audience in a matter of fact way. Say something like, “It looks like we have troll trying to interfere with the meaningful dialog of our live stream. Let’s all ignore this troll’s unproductive comments. By the way, block the troll so he or she doesn’t interfere with your next live stream.” Then continue with your stream.
Note: If you’re going to take a troll on, avoid arguments and use facts. At the beginning, ask the troll to identify himself and to share his email or website.
3. Use a moderator during live streams– have this person monitor, screenshot (below), block or blacklist trolls.
4. After the show, report trolls to the social media platform and IP host provider (use template letter I provide below)
Often times trolls break the law. Their First Amendment Right to Free Speech is, in my opinion, limited. Depending on your state and federal jurisdiction, you may be able to hit a troll with money damages, injunctions and even attorney fees!
United Kingdom- Malicious Communications Act 1988 as well as Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 “internet trolls” face up to 2 years.
US- 41 months in prison
New state and federal laws re cyber stalking, harassment, bullying and hacking
Learn how to video record or take screenshots on your computer
Press Command (⌘)-Shift-4; Move the crosshair pointer to where you want to start the screenshot. Drag to select an area. When you’ve selected the area you want, release your mouse or trackpad button. Find the screenshot as a .png file on your desktop.
Record Video with QuickTime Player; Record your screen; Screen recording creates a movie of all or part of your Mac screen. To record the screen of your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, use the movie-recording function instead; Choose File > New Screen Recording.
Click the window you want to capture. Press Alt+Print Screen by holding down the Alt key and then pressing the Print Screen key. The Print Screen key is near the upper-right corner of your keyboard.
Use Camtasia from TechSmith
Various third party apps and tools are available to live video capture a stream while using your smartphone. The above solutions re capturing content from your desktop is easiest.
Letter to social media provider
After your live stream, complete and send the provided template letter to the social media platform hosting your live stream. Modify as needed.
The letter advises the platform that a user is harassing you. If you have been harmed emotionally or physically or, if you or your business has been harmed, then include all details.
Point out that the troll has violated the terms of service (TOS) agreement and should be banned from the platform. Include any identifying information you have including the trolls handle, username, and screenshots. If the troll has violated the law and committed a criminal act, advice the service provider that you have reported the troll’s activity to the local police and legal authorities. Include their contact information, and case identification numbers, in the letter.
The best practice is to send this letter via Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested, Federal Express or UPS. This way you have written confirmation that the information has been received by the platform. It also allows your complaint to stand out above and beyond other complaints submitted via email or direct message on social. Several addresses are below.
If the problem persist or if the harm is so great that simply notifying a platform provider is inadequate, file a lawsuit to (1) identify the troll, (2) stop the harm, (3) obtain an injunction, and (4) seek money damages.
If you don’t know the identity of the troll, most jurisdictions allow you to prepare, file and serve a lawsuit naming the troll as a Doe defendant. Depending on your legal jurisdiction and the troll’s misconduct, you can bring causes of action for negligence, infliction of emotional distress, defamation (libel), civil conspiracy, harassment, interference with economic advantage, and other related causes of action.
Once your lawsuit is filed, your lawyer can use the power of a subpoena and serve the social media platform hosting the live stream (Periscope, Meerkat, Blab…) with the subpoena demanding all information relating to the troll (username). Your will provide all information you have and the subpoena will need to be specific. See the cases below for direction.
Mailhoit vs Home Depot USA Inc (C.D. Cal. 2012) 285 F.R.D. 566 Ingrid & Isabel, LLC vs Baby Be Mine LLC (N.D. Cal. 2014) 2014 WL 1338480 People v. Beckley (2010) 185 Cal.App.4th 509, 514 (MySpace pic) People v. Hawkins (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 1428 (source code / metadata)
The service provider may be able to use metadata to ascertain the IP address of the troll or internet provider used by the troll. The IP address information can be used to ascertain the internet provider of the troll. A similar subpoena can then be issued to that internet provider regarding all contact information associated with that particular troll. You should be able to get name, billing address and other contact information like contact number, email and more from one or more of the providers. In big damages cases, experts such as Alex Holden are skilled at doing this for you.
Once this is done you can have the local sheriff or process server serve the troll with a summons and complaint (a lawsuit). In California the troll will have about 30 days to respond.
This process was done in the lawsuits below. One involved a business receiving false and harmful reviews.
Want to see what an $8M lawsuit against a troll looks like? Click here
When a troll commits a crime, he or she can and should be held accountable. While you can use the above steps to determine the troll’s identity, for safety and preservation of evidence needs, I suggest you immediately get the police and District Attorney’s Office involved.
Present your demand and evidence to the police and District Attorney’s Office in a letter similar to what is described above. Make sure it is physically delivered to the police agency and/or District Attorney’s Office via certified letter, Federal Express or UPS. Placing these agencies on written notice that there’s a criminal problem. If your safety is at issue, emphasize this fact. A clear and concise paper trial is key to getting these agencies involved.
While the laws are different in each state, it’s interesting to note that in the United Kingdom, there is the Malicious Communications Act of 1988 as well as Section 127 of the Communications Act of 2004. Violating Internet trolls can now face up to two years in jail. These laws hold that sending messages which are “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” is an offense whether they are actually received by the intended recipient.
New state and federal laws re cyber stalking, harassment, bullying and hacking. Contact your local authorities for updates on pending and new cyber harassment (troll) related laws.
Do It Yourself
Although I recommend getting an experienced lawyer involved (you may be able to do this on a contingency fee basis with no out-of-pocket expense), you can take the following steps yourself.
The initial TOS violation letter (below) can be completed and mailed as per my instructions.
A Small Claims or Superior Court lawsuit can be filed in Pro per (without a lawyer) and the subpoena can be issued by the court on your behalf.
If the Internet provider is not cooperative or fails to comply with the subpoena, you can independently research the IP address of the troll using free online services such as this service.
Once you obtain the trolls internet IP address, you can have a more specific subpoena issued by the court to acquire the personal information of the troll from either the social media platform provider and/or the Internet provider.
Notice of Troll and Civil and Criminal Harassment: Terms of Service Violation DEMAND FOR ACCOUNT CLOSURE AND REPORTING
[send one letter to the social media platform and a separate letter to the Internet provider (Verizon, Cox…) addresses below]
Name of Company (Social Media Platform Company or Internet Provider)
City, State Zip Code
Re: Your Account Username: @TestAccount
Troll Account Username: @xyz
Date(s) of Violation: Date
I am the victim of illegal civil and criminal online harassment. The above-identified troll, who is using your platform with your permission, has caused harm to me and my business. This troll is in violation of state and federal laws and your terms of service agreement.
Before bringing in legal counsel to assist me with this matter, I thought I would first give you the opportunity to help. What happens next is completely up to you.
Please take the necessary steps to prevent this troll from causing any further harm. This is not a Constitutional First Amendment “Free Speech” issue. This is a violation of law and “Terms of Service” agreement violation issue that has resulted in harm to both me and my business.
Please block this troll’s account and bar this person and IP address from further use of your social media platform. If you must first conduct an independent investigation, then please do so immediately.
Copies of picture and video screenshot violations are attached (or included in the USB stick). A unilateral review of your internal servers will support my concerns and also confirm the wrongful conduct and TOS violations.
[if the action is threatening] The actions of this troll not only violate my civil rights, but may also be in violation of certain state and federal criminal laws. By copy of this letter, I am also notifying the local police department, and District Attorney’s Office, of my concerns.
Please confirm in writing, within ten (10) days, that you will take the requested action. If you fail to do so, I will seek all available legal remedies. I trust this will not be necessary.
Your written confirmation to me as to what action you will be taking must be received within the above noted time parameter. Otherwise, I will hire legal counsel to protect my interest and safety. This is not the first of many demands. Please review the above carefully and conduct yourself accordingly.
Your Contact Information
Alpha Exploration Co.
548 Market Street, PMB 72878
San Francisco, CA 94104
1355 MARKET ST STE 900
San Francisco, CA 94103
1601 Willow Road
Menlo Park CA 94025