Luckily enough, I have never personally experienced cyber-bulling, but I also consider myself quite old school when it comes to the internet and careful when it comes to my personal data (which is an illusion, I know). On the contrary, many of my youths are living more and more online, they seem to morph into hybrids. While is tendency is scaring me, I am well aware of its inevitably: Many tools and online media will become essential in daily social and work life, many of them already are. If you want to life a „normal“ social and successful life, you cannot disconnect from the internet, it is just not possible to work without emails, to keep up with friends without WhatsApp or Instagram or simply to navigate somewhere without Maps. I don't want to sound like a old man trying to hinder modernity from happening, but I want to point to the dangers ( as I already did in a previous report about social media and mental health), and one of this is cyber-bulling.
It is this field of tension between the freedom of speech and the protection of personality, which makes this issue controversial: What can be said online? The same as offline? What counts as offensive? What as illegal? Especially difficult is the question of how to control online communication and online expression. Every measure here seems somehow dystopia-like, broad censorship and online surveillance, but it might be necessary. We need discussions about how the internet should be ruled, how it can be regulated, since it cannot be a lawless space, where big cooperates use our data. It is a very difficult legal case, and it is about fundamental rights: To ensure freedoms but also to secure freedoms and safeties of others.
There has been an interesting case in Austria (which has different laws from Germany and Czech Republic in this case): The former deputy Sigi Maurer has been sued for defamation, she had to pay over 7.000 Euro. Ms. Maurer had been sexually harassed in a Facebook chat, and then published the obscene messages in social media. But because she couldn't prove that the suspected owner of a pub has personally written these messages, had she been convicted guilty of defamation. There is no law in Austria, which prohibits sexual violence online - Harassment without body contact is not considered a crime, and an insult is just punishable, when at least three persons witnessed. That means, that somebody insulting you, even sexually harassing you in a private chat is doing perfectly fine according to Austrian law. The case of Sigi Maurer is going to be re-negotiated, she said on Twitter she would even go as far as the European Court of Human Rights.
Fortunately enough, the legal situation is different in Germany, people have more possibilities to protect themselves from online harassment and insult. So what to do in a critical case?
Firstly, it has to been checked if a criminal offense is present: This is the small line between criticism and a actual criminal insult. A clear case here is if someone is spreading wrong facts; So basically, if you work as a barista somewhere, and someone would be unhappy with his coffee, and would post in rage „You aren't a real barista!“ on your Facebook page, he would be simply wrong. And this is already a criminal offense, it is slander, or even defamation if the person had known for certain that you are a barista and he is lying on purpose.
This raises the question, whether all critical or negative assessments of another person are directly punishable - No, if your criticism has a reference to content it is legal. Only if you are aiming at defaming a person, it is punishable according to German law. And it doesn't make a big difference if you were insulted in real life or offline: Defamation of a person is strictly forbidden in Germany, sentences can go up to five years of prison for defamation
So, how can you protect yourself from online bullying? Above all, save and document all evidence, make screenshots and note the dates. The easiest way is to report discriminative or defaming comments directly to the social network itself. In most cases, the user won't be blocked, many if is reported various times and becomes conspicuous. If you want to legal prosecute the case, there are two options: You can either report it to the police, which is not very effective in most cases. Another possibility is to engage a lawyer and to open a civil litigation, so if the person would ever insult/harass you again he or she would have to pay a fine. But be careful, you should not publish the insulting post yourself as in the case of Sigi Maurer - If you do so, the offender himself could claim his personal rights and sue you instead. What sounds paradox, is the attempt to protect every’s personal rights - Even if it doesn't sound just at first…