An insult is constituted by a word, by a writing or by an expression uttered towards a person, with the aim of offending him. The insult can be private or public.

The development and full growth of social networks and the web are accelerating the phenomenon of online insults. A lot of offensive content is published on the internet every day.

Have you been the victim of an insult and want to know how you can defend yourself? Pierre de Roquefeuil, a lawyer specializing in communication law in Paris, supports you to advise you and to ensure that your interests are respected.


Online insults: what are the different types of insults?

The insult can be public or private.

Whatever it is, it constitutes a contemptuous act aimed at a person without referring to a specific behavior or fact. The notions of insult and defamation have similarities. Defamation absorbs insult. Defamation supposes that a specific fact is imputed and whose truth can be the subject of a debate (to be distinguished from mere opinion) undermining honor and consideration. In the same way, the insult tries to attack the honor and the consideration, but without referring to a precise fact. It can be excused if it originates from a provocation.

Insult should not be confused with threat. This designates the fact of expressing to a person the intention to harm him, in order to scare him. Two types of threats are distinguished: the death threat and the threat to commit an offense or a crime. If the threat is accompanied by blackmail, this constitutes an aggravating circumstance heavily punished by law.

Public insult is also to be distinguished from outrage, which is punished much more severely. A recent decision of the Constitutional Council reminds us of this. The contempt is addressed directly to the victim and the one who commits it does not seek an audience.

In order to be able to determine the qualification that must be given to offensive comments or publications, various criteria must be taken into account. The expression itself must be taken into account, but also the circumstances in which the remarks were made.

The lawyer specializing in communication law advises you and helps you identify the exact fault committed by the author of the comments online. Take the attachment of Pierre de Roquefeuil, a lawyer specializing in communication law in Paris.

Right to be forgotten, to be delisted from search engines 

           The private insult

A private insult can be addressed to a person in different ways: a message, a letter. The private insult can also be stated in a small committee of people who share the same interest, for example: during a theater or music lesson. The insult is constituted in the presence or not of the victim.

Private insult is a matter for the police court and constitutes a fourth-class misdemeanour. However, when it is of a racist and discriminatory nature, the contravention goes to the fifth class.


           The public insult

Public insult concerns an insult uttered in a public way. It can be pronounced on the public highway, during an event or in a residential building.

“Any outrageous expression, terms of contempt or invective which does not contain the imputation of any fact is an insult” according to the 2nd paragraph of article 29 of the law of 1881.

Public insult is an offense falling within the jurisdiction of the criminal court. She is punished with a fine of 12,000 euros. However, if the insult is characterized in a racist or discriminatory way towards a religion, it can be punished by one year's imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 euros.

The insult aimed at a company or a staff member is requalified as an insult.


Insult and social networks

There are an estimated 4.2 billion internet users worldwide. Thus, with this important virtual continent, it becomes very complicated, if not impossible, for social networks to control all the publications and comments published every day on platforms around the world.

More than 2.9 million pieces of hateful content have been reported to Facebook in recent months. Social networks have become communication tools that facilitate abusive language. Indeed, the freedom of communication offered by social networks can lead its users to think that they can express themselves without risk. However, freedom of expression has its limits. Insulting remarks made on the internet as in “normal” life are punishable by law and the penalties can be very heavy.


         Social networks: public or private insult?

An insult uttered on social networks can be private or public depending on several criteria.

In the event that the insult is posted publicly on social networks, that it can be consulted by several people and even shared, it is public.

On the other hand, when an insult is published privately: in a restricted group or in a private message not visible to the public, it is considered private.

In order to be able to characterize the insult as private or public, justice attaches to a parameter that can switch the insult from public to private, or vice versa.

Indeed, a profile configured in "private" mode to which few people have access, is more likely to lead to a qualification of private insult.

On the contrary, a profile set up in a public way on social networks will further lead to the public nature of an insult.


         Insult on social networks: the author is a minor, what do you risk as parents?

Insults on social networks are heavily sanctioned, in the same way as insults outside social networks.

Whatever the age of the child, if he is the author of insulting remarks on social networks, he will have to justify his actions in court. The penal majority being set at 18 years, the child will not be punished as heavily as the adult. On the other hand, the parents being held civilly responsible for the faults committed by their minor children, will have to answer for the acts of their child.

Thus, the justice system can decide to sanction the parents with a fine or to compensate the victim of the insulting remarks.


         Insults by an employee towards his company: the company's remedies

An employer can react to comments made by an employee on social networks. Insult can be observed when:

– The terms that have been used are offensive, violent, derogatory or offensive. They do not need to be attributed to anyone to constitute an insult.
– The remarks were made public on social networks and are visible to many Internet users.

An employer faced with insults from an employee can sue the latter for public insults. This misconduct also constitutes a real and serious cause or serious misconduct that may lead to dismissal.

You are the victim of insults on social networks and you want to know how to defend yourself? Some initial advice from Pierre de Roquefeuil, a lawyer specializing in communication law in Paris:

– Constitute proof of these insults. The lawyer assists you in compiling evidence;
– If you know the identity of the author of these insults, it seems illusory to address him directly so that he withdraws the insult; the lawyer can assist you in the action to be taken, and on the possible legal proceedings to be initiated, and in what time frame;.

Platforms often set up reporting systems that may be enough to have the insult removed. It will then be a question of constituting a proof before the deletion by the platform of the offensive remark.

Platforms can also adopt an attitude of refusal to withdraw, and require that the author of the comments be first sanctioned by justice.

They may also be reluctant to communicate the identification data of the author of the remarks, for the sake of confidentiality, including on legal injunction.

– Take the attachment of a lawyer specialized in communication law for the continuation of the procedure.

Prosecutions for defamation, insult, or other so-called press offences, or for other cyber offenses referred to in the penal code, or even for commercial denigration which often amounts to insult, are not simple prosecutions. They require specific technical know-how. Their purpose is more to enforce principles than to obtain compensation.


Insult on the internet: the lawyer in communication law in Paris accompanies you and advises you

When the victim has just become aware of the insult pronounced against him, he must first begin to constitute his evidence. It is however recommended, at this stage, to call on a specialized lawyer.

The victim will be able to make a capture or a photo of the insult of which he has just been the victim, or even note the URL of the publication. This must show the date and time when the insult was published. The victim can also gather additional evidence: testimonies, telephone records, letters, etc.

The 3-month limitation period will begin on the date of publication of the insult. The victim will therefore then have 3 months to initiate proceedings against the perpetrator.

For evidence to be as reliable as possible, the victim can appeal to a bailiff who will draw up a report established according to standard NF 67-147 and which will guarantee the reliability of the report of the public insult. The report will have to be drawn up before the disappearance of the remarks. A report drawn up by a bailiff then guarantees the smooth running of the procedure.

The victim can then lodge a complaint with the gendarmerie or the police station. If the author is known, the complaint will be filed by direct citation. On the other hand, if the author is not known by the victim, a complaint against X will have to be filed.

Secondly, after gathering proof of publication of the insult, the victim must request its withdrawal. If it was published on a social network, it must be able to report the content. If the insult has been published on the web, the victim can contact the site host.

The victim will then have to contact a lawyer specialized in communication law in order to be assisted in his steps. The specialized lawyer will be able to seize the competent judge in order to try to have the insults removed within a period that is not too long. Then, the specialized lawyer will file a criminal complaint which will trigger an investigation to identify the author of the insult, or will ask the judge, on request, in summary proceedings or in an accelerated procedure on the merits, to enjoin the platform to provide identification data.

Have you been the victim of an insult and want to know how you can defend yourself? Pierre de Roquefeuil, a lawyer specializing in communication law in Paris, supports you to advise you and to ensure that your interests are respected. The specialized lawyer will help you to identify the procedure adapted to your situation.

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