Negative Posts on Social Media are Difficult to Prevent
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Can I stop someone from posting negative things about me on the internet?

            This is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions by clients, but perhaps one of the most difficult to answer.  The story usually unfolds like this:

Boyfriend and girlfriend get into fight.  One or both of the parties are injured physically, emotionally or otherwise angered.  One or both begin posting hateful, negative, and intimate details about the other person, which is read by everyone in their social networks.

Another common complaint is: “Someone posted negative reviews about me/my business that are unfounded. “

Unfortunately for the client, the answer as to whether there is a way to prevent someone bad-mouthing them online is most likely a NO.  Every layperson is familiar with the U.S. Constitution’s Freedom of Speech clause, and more knowledgeable people understand what defamation means.   While both of these legal terms are commonly known, they are far less important than one would believe.

Two areas where an injured party is likely to have a legitimate criminal claim are cases of harassment and stalking.  While stalking may be one element of the overall battle between the two trash talking social media accounts, a party is more likely to experience negative posts in the form of harassment.

In Pennsylvania, harassment is found in 18 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. § 2709, and states:

A person commits the crime of harassment when, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another, the person:

(1)  strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects the other person to physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same;

(2)  follows the other person in or about a public place or places;

(3)  engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which serve no legitimate purpose;

(4)  communicates to or about such other person any lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures;

(5)  communicates repeatedly in an anonymous manner;

(6)  communicates repeatedly at extremely inconvenient hours; or

(7)  communicates repeatedly in a manner not specified in paragraphs (4), (5), and (6)….

  • 2709(a)(1) further narrows the scope of this law by addressing cyberbullying online to children.

In most  cases, time usually causes one or both parties to cool down and stop posting negative or harassing messages.  Law enforcement is more likely to take action when the content of the messages or posts threaten immediate harm to the target(s).  If the content is extremely specific in detailing what or how harm would be inflicted, the author may be charged with terroristic threats.

As long as there is social media, there will always be issues with what type of speech is permitted, and to what extent.  Next time you think about posting threatening or inappropriate content about someone, think twice or you’ll find yourself requiring my services sooner than you think!

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