Libel on Facebook and Twitter - what can we do?
February 22, 2015 2:25 PM   Subscribe

My partner's daughter's ex has posted false accusations on Facebook about him and they are being discussed on Twitter. YANOL but does anyone have any advice? The Police are involved but not doing much, Facebook have ruled it doesn't break their guidelines, and we've been told it would be too expensive to sue for defamation (this is in the UK). My partner is massively distressed and we don't know what to do and I don't know how to support him.

The daughter and her partner are in a long custody battle over their child. He was abusive to her and has alcohol issues and currently he has no access to the child (age 4). The relationship broke down before the child was born and my partner has never met him. A few nights ago we were alerted to the fact that he had posted on FB that my partner is a paedophile and rapist and had abused his daughter from the age of 6, posted his ex-wife's school name (she is Principal) and made allegations about them both "grooming kids", posted the address of the family home and threatened to go there with a hammer if he found out my partner had abused his child (the grandchild). My partner is understandably devastated - these are 100% not true.

This is all complicated by the fact that his daughter is a high-profile sexual abuse survivor. Late last year she made public the fact that she was abused as a teenager by an uncle by marriage who has links to an extremely high-profile local political figure who helped cover up the abuse. As a result of making it public she was subjected to a lot of vile abuse on Twitter by supporters of this figure and his party. It was a nightmare for the whole family and reopened many wounds. Now that my partner is being accused of abusing her himself he's finding it hard to cope with as it is literally the worst thing anyone can say. These same supporters are now spreading the rumours through Twitter. He hasn't responded as he was advised not to so now they're calling this silence out as proof of his guilt.

What has been done:
His daughter has reported the claims as harassment as she has a restraining order against him. So far the police have taken no action.
My partner reported the posts to the police as harassment and they waited from Friday until today to take a statement but pretty much told him he'd have to take a civil case of defamation.
I asked a family friend who is a solicitor about this and they said it would cost around £50k and would be "a waste of time". We do not have this kind of money and there is no legal aid as it is High Court.
We reported the posts to Facebook who ruled they didn't break guidelines despite being (in our view) harassment as they are clearly intended to cause distress to the family as he is angry over the custody issue, they included threats of violence and published their home address. I can't find a way to appeal this as the decision comes from a "no reply" email and I can't find any general contact for Facebook ( returns a "not in service - go to the help panel on your profile" link so it's back to square one.)
We've reported the tweets but have heard nothing back from Twitter.

My questions:
•What, practically, can we do? Is it a bad idea to respond via twitter/FB? We don't want to get drawn into a war of words or give airtime to the people who are doing this (they've even started a #ISupport[person responsible's name] in a sick parody of one that was started for his daughter. But is staying quiet worse as they're saying "why isn't he defending himself"?
•Does anyone know of any way of contacting FB or appealing a decision regarding harassing posts? I have Googled and I just can't seem to find any kind of complaint or customer service or whatever contact.
•How do I support him? His job is working with vulnerable people and this could cause damage to his professional reputation. On a personal level knowing this is out there is really hurting him. His ex wife got a call from a friend asking if it was true which was awful. It's bringing up so much stuff about what he went through when he found out his daughter was abused, and again when she went public, he totally broke down last night. He also absolutely adores his grandchild and he is their favourite person in the world and for anyone to even suggest he might harm her is devastating. It's really hard to see him like this and have no way to help. I can't even say don't worry people will know it's bullshit because of the ones fanning the flames and spreading this "no smoke without fire" attitude. Is it really possible that people can just say what they want about someone and get away with it? That's particularly hard to bear as her abuser got away with it and it's like a nightmare to think the victims never get any justice.

Practically and emotionally, what the hell do we do?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (11 answers total)
It is best to try and ignore it. Creeps like him live for attention. Don't give it to him. Support the daughter as much as possible and encourage her to stay out of it as well. Don't ever let him near the child. It could all blow over. If it doesn't, if it escalates, then the police will step in. Document everything.
posted by myselfasme at 2:31 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is drama. You starve drama by suffocating it. Give it no oxygen. NO ONE should be responding to this. Block it from your feeds if you can.

If your partner is asked about it the best response is, "obviously I deny the allegations and it's being handled by law enforcement." It's being badly handled by law enforcement, but it's not a lie.

Try not to fret. In most cases these horrible people flame out quickly because people see it for what it is. Attention whoring of the worst kind. The less your folks say about it and participate in it, the faster this will happen.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:45 PM on February 22, 2015

I would put out a single statement on each social media platform that addresses the allegations as blatant harassment. Something like "I am currently being harassed by false allegations. The matter has been referred to law enforcement." This shuts down any speculation of "silence = truth." But don't go further than a single denial, as that will fuel people who are just trying to light up the drama.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:00 PM on February 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Do you know any journalists? You've been advised to keep quiet but would that advice still apply to someone writing about you? You'd get your voice heard. The slanderer might back off if a reporter asks him for a reply. He may also come clean.

A gamble though.
posted by popcassady at 3:03 PM on February 22, 2015

The daughter and her partner are in a long custody battle over their child.

Then this needs to be discussed with the presiding authority over this battle.

I think a single statement that you'll be pursuing this through the legal system rather than social media will suffice.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:05 PM on February 22, 2015 [9 favorites]

Find a publicist who has experience handling crises. There is of course a legal component to this, and the default of a lawyer is to advise nothing be said. However, if you look at many cases that only started to be resolved after pressure from the media, silence may not be the best defense. Publicist should work with your lawyer.
posted by Sophont at 3:41 PM on February 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

It is possible that Facebook will revise their decision. I reported a group for hate speech a couple of months ago. At the time they said that the group didn't violate their TOS. A few weeks ago I got a notification that they had decided that the group did actually violate the TOS and they had removed the group.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 3:47 PM on February 22, 2015

This sounds like an attempt to defy the custody agreement currently in place. Is his daughter working with a solicitor or lawyer or agency or anyone else on the custody agreement? If so, I would have her contact that person or agency and let them know what's going on. Legally, I suspect focusing on how he's trying to manipulate things to get access to the child (by falsely alleging the child's mother's parent is a predator), rather than on how he's harming your partner, might be more fruitful.

Emotionally, can your partner talk to a therapist or a sexual-abuse support hotline? For his own wellbeing, and the wellbeing of his clients/customers/patients, he should be able to have a place to hash out his own feelings about the current bullying and his daughter's past abuse.
posted by jaguar at 4:06 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Crash Override is a group of people working to assist victims of online harassment that was founded because of that GamerGate nonsense, but might be able to either help by putting you guys in touch with better contacts at those social media outlets, or at the very least advising about responses and how to deal.
posted by Sequence at 4:53 PM on February 22, 2015 [10 favorites]

1. Do not respond on social media. Do not listen to anyone who tells you to respond on social media. You will convince nobody and only add fuel to the conversation. Only respond through a brief statement if a reporter contacts you. Do not alert the media about the allegations!
2. Ask the solicitor for advice on what evidence you would need to prosecute the defamation case, even if you don't intend to follow through.
3. Document, document, document. Make copies of everything you see about these allegations, especially the threats. Make note of phone calls like the one ex wife received (when/who etc), and other fallout.
4. If daughter has not alerted her institution superiors of the allegations, she should give serious thought to doing so immediately. She may wish to get her own legal advice as well.
5. Help your partner get medical help or therapy for the stress of the situation.
posted by zennie at 9:28 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

As zennie says, "document, document, document" - I suggest both screenshots and print-outs to collect your evidence of what is happening. It sounds like you are already taking appropriate steps by reporting this to the police, and collecting the evidence can help the police help you. Sometimes it can take multiple incidents before a case is ready to go forward, so please do not stop documenting because of the initial responses that you have received from law enforcement, Facebook and Twitter.

I searched for awhile on Facebook, and in a Copyright section, there was a subsection for Abuse and Harassment, which lead to their Safety Center. In a "Dealing with Bullying" page, there is a mention about how you can "Use Facebook's Trusted Friend tool to send a copy of the abusive content to someone you trust who can help you deal with the bullying. This will also generate a report to Facebook." I suggest that you keep reporting every incident as it happens, so the pattern of harassment can be clear to Facebook.

Facebook also has a page about a Safety Team that mentions "special teams just to handle user appeals for the instances when we might have made a mistake." I haven't been able to find out how to submit an appeal to Facebook, but more information may be available on your Facebook Support Dashboard.

Please also note that in the days since your post, the Guardian has been reporting on Twitter's new efforts to combat this type of behavior and the increased resources at Twitter to combat abuse and harassment.

Also, it does seem possible that there may ultimately be criminal sanctions, if this September 2014 report from Ars Technica (originally reported by the Guardian) about jail time for a British man due to violations of "section 127 of the Communications Act, which prohibits electronic messages that are "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character"" is any indication.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:03 PM on March 8, 2015

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