Tackling the online nasties By Amanda Hamilton, Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)

Tackling the online nasties By Amanda Hamilton, Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)

More than 60% of the global population are internet users – that’s approximately 4.9 billion people. More than half of all internet traffic is via mobile phones. The growth in worldwide internet users is about seven times faster than population growth. And social media use takes up two hours and 22 minutes of the average person’s day. We spend a lot of time online, and it has changed our lives significantly. Not always in a good way.

I had a close friend who was an extremely balanced person and non-aggressive. She was asked to do something for an acquaintance free of charge that would enhance that person’s business. It involved a performance in front of a large audience which my friend had never done before. She felt aggrieved since the acquaintance was an experienced performer and teacher and never offered any support on the night. After the event and a glass too many of red wine, my friend posted something on the Facebook Group page that she later regretted. It was not aggressive, but it was perceived by the acquaintance to be an insult and degrading in the eyes of her fellow group members. However, the acquaintance promptly sent a private message to my friend saying that it would be better to discuss this face to face. It worked, and within a few minutes of their meeting and after a chat, my friend apologised to her and posted a retraction and apology on the Group page. She has never posted anything derogatory since. She learned her lesson and realised how easy it is these days to say something you later regret, but only when it is too late to prevent the posting.

My friend’s dalliance with what is known as Online Disinhibition Effect was brief, but some people embrace it, thriving on the distress they cause – these are the trolls. If you find yourself on the receiving end of a troll, what can you do?

The first and important tip is, do not ignore it! You should respond swiftly, and in a calm and reasonable way, as soon as possible. Trolling is like bullying. The troller is confident enough to do it knowing that there will be a few sheep-like individuals who will join in and back him/her up. So, in the same way as confronting a bully head-on, you do the same thing online to try to diffuse the situation. Perhaps reply with something similar to these suggestions:

·      You are entitled, of course, to your opinion, but I would invite you to meet me, or have a face-to-face Zoom with me to discuss this in person

·      I am afraid you are wrong in your assumptions for the following reasons…

·      Let me put you right on a few inaccuracies in your comments…

Of course, what you don’t want to do is to get embroiled in a whole batch of further comments and so you need to think very carefully about how to approach the response and make it as ‘closed’ as possible: do not leave it open for further comment. And think hard before you reply to the reply (if the troll does reply)

If you attempt to diffuse the situation without success, you may have to turn to legal methods. If you need legal advice or assistance, you can always approach a paralegal who will offer you access to justice at a more reasonable cost than a solicitor. To find a qualified paralegal visit the National Paralegal Register: https://www.nationalparalegals.co.uk/national-paralegal-register/.

A ‘Cease and Desist’ letter could be sent (if you know the troller’s postal or email address). This informs the person to cease what they are doing under threat of legal action. If that fails to work, a claim for compensation based on harassment could be made through the courts.

One final tip: people often refer to ‘defamation’. This is a legal term that describes someone making a false verbal (slander) or written (libel) statement about an individual or business which damages their reputation, resulting in financial loss. However, the burden lies with the person making such an allegation of loss that financial loss has been suffered as a direct result of such defamation. If that can be proved, then it may be worth taking legal action. But beware! It is a costly process and there is no funding to assist you. All of the above actions, of course, may be negated by the fact that the reviewer or ‘troller’ may be anonymous, but if you are aware of who they are, then mediation could be considered in order to settle any issues without recourse to litigation through the courts.


Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres around the country, accredited and recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal professional.

Web: http://www.nationalparalegals.co.uk

Twitter: @NALP_UK

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LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/amanda-hamilton-llb-hons-840a6a16/