Offending people online: 4 things you must know

Insulting, provoking, agitating — the anonymous internet is the ideal forum for the rage of many people. Social media like Facebook or YouTube are criticized a lot nowadays for spreading fake information about people; Still we love to use them to stay in contact with friends and family. But as in real life, conflicts happen — comments are posted and shared with everyone. Very often these posts are unacceptable, and even though we have freedom of opinion we must be careful with what we say on the internet:

1. The limits of freedom of expression.

You get to the limits of freedom of expression the moment you damage the person with what is said. The law in the criminal code applies on the internet just as it applies in “real life”. Juristically, an offense on Facebook, Twitter, or somewhere else on the internet doesn’t differ from an offense on the street.

2. Different ways of insulting and hurting people online.

A classic swear word like “dumbass” or “idiot” is already considered a criminal act. Even relatively harmless remarks are classified as an offense. There was a case involving people bidding on eBay, where someone was called a “fun bidder”. In a civil proceeding the comment was categorized as an offense and the offender had to pay an amount of €3000, although the comment was shared on a product costing only €45. 
 
 However, communicating true facts are covered by freedom of expression — for example, when someone writes about how you lost your driving license. But even such statements of fact are punishable if they cause a bad reputation to the person mentioned.

3. Penalties and their different factors.

The penalties depend on the magnitude of the damage caused: How many people saw it? What is the grade of the insult? How much damage does it cause the victim? 
 
 For malicious gossip, it depends on if what is said is true. If it is true, the offender is unlikely to be punished. However, if the victim was badly harmed and its reputation has been damaged, the offender is imprisoned for a year or pays a fine due to an invasion of the privacy, no matter if the truth has been said or not. If this took place on the streets, the penalty is imprisonment of up to 6 months only and a less expensive fine than for online gossiping. Online are more people to witness the comments, so the victim is harmed more.

If you get caught insulting someone (maltreatment, mocking, abuse) you are possible to be imprisoned up to 3 months or pay a fine.

If you are convicted of defamation, it is enough that one person read what the offender wrote. It is then punished by imprisonment of up to 2 years, and in case of serious offenses up to 5 years.

4. What to do when someone attacks you online.

First, ask: is it really an offense or slander? Because if true facts are spread about you — for example, that you have lost your driver’s license — it harms your reputation, but is usually covered by freedom of expression. 
 
 Feeling offended by someone’s post on a website because he/she is saying something about you, you must collect proof: prints, screen shots and, if available, the IP number of the offender’s computer. If you know the offender, you can ask them to delete the entries. If you don’t know them, you can ask the operator of the website to delete it. If the operator doesn’t comply with the request, you can ask the police for help. 
 
 Unfortunately, the amount of such internet disputes is relatively high due to the large number of internet users, so the police isn’t always able to help.

We all want to share our opinion with others and the best way to do so is the internet. But when it comes to sharing information about someone we must be aware of the consequences. The moment we damage them online (spreading rumours or private information), we are punished for it. So, whenever we want to post information about a person, we must ask ourselves in what ways it harms the person. Is a lie or insult written about you, don’t hesitate to act against it — whether you are successful or not.

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