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Talking Heads: Tackling abuse

Being targeted by animal rights activists can be a frightening and unpleasant experience as well as having potential reputational repercussions. Polly Portwin looks at how to respond to various types of persecution.

How should business owners respond to abuse from animal rights activists on social media?

The business owner (or designated representative/social media admin) should report the specific post directly to the social media platform. This will be investigated to see if the post complies with the platform's community standards. If they do not contravene these standards you will get an opportunity to advise the response is unsatisfactory and request that it is reviewed.

What other action can be taken to reduce reputational damage to a business?

i) Turn off the review facility on social media and other sites to prevent harmful – and often fake – reviews being left.

ii) Consider temporarily removing your social media page.

iii) Contact the CA who can offer advice about pursuing a formal complaint and can also draft a statement to be posted on your page or form part of an auto-response to organised email campaigns.

Is it a criminal offence for somebody to send threatening/abusive/offensive messages via social media?

If a person sends messages of this nature to another person via Facebook, Twitter, or any other social networking site, they could be committing an offence. The most relevant offences are "harassment" and "malicious communications".

The messages do not necessarily have to be violent in nature, but must be oppressive and need to have caused some alarm or distress.

What can I do if I receive threatening texts or emails?

If you receive two or more nuisance or threatening e-mails/texts this could amount to an offence of harassment. For harassment to be committed, there must be a "course of conduct", i.e. more than two related occurrences. The incidents must be related and must not be two isolated incidents. The further apart the incidents are, the less likely there is to be an offence of harassment; however, all the circumstances of the incident will be taken into account when determining if an offence has been committed.

What evidence may be required to assist the police in pursuing an offence?

The injured party should start keeping a record/ log of incidents/calls or social media posts in date order. Take a screen shot of any posts and comments, storing a hard copy in a file. Retain any voice recordings or copies of any other abusive mail, messages or texts.

How do I stop nuisance phone calls?

Contact your service provider to block calls or to only receive calls where the caller's number is not withheld. You may want to consider installing voice recording of all calls for training and monitoring purposes.

How should organised protests outside businesses or venues be managed?

If activists are openly planning physical action (i.e. turning up at a venue on a particular day to target the business), then the police should be informed so that appropriate plans can be put in place. The event organisers may be requested to employ trained door staff to prevent disruption or to prevent unauthorised access on to the site.

As well as contacting the CA for further advice regarding how to proceed and pursue any formal complaint, we recommend that details are reported to the police via the non-emergency 101 number, where based on the full facts, they will advise what offences are being committed.

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