There are organizations that offer legal advice and services, in some cases pro bono, for writers and journalists experiencing online harassment.
There are many reasons you may decide to contact a lawyer when experiencing online harassment. A layer may be able to help you with: nonconsensual intimate imagery, defamation, true threats of violence, cyberstalking, and severe cases of cyber harassment involving a “course of conduct” (i.e. ongoing behaviors from the same perpetrator) can merit a lawyer’s involvement, along with a number of other harassing behaviors that might cause you substantial emotional distress.
However, there are many forms of online harassment that a lawyer can’t necessarily help you with. While most abusive tactics are exhausting, emotionally taxing, and even traumatic for the target (not to mention ethically reprehensible), they are not necessarily illegal. For example, a person who is calling you offensive or hateful names on social media, or engaging in ad hominem attacks against you, is probably engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment—in which case, a lawyer is not likely to get involved. Even threats of violence, which aren’t always protected by the First Amendment, can present a gray area online: the legal definition of a “true threat” is narrow and can be challenging to apply in an online context, where discerning a speaker’s intent can be difficult.
Because the topic is complex and laws can vary state to state, nothing can replace a lawyer’s professional advice on your individual case. Free lawyer referrals are offered by many local bar associations, which you can browse via the American Bar Association’s main website. Below is a list of organizations that offer legal advice and/or services, in some cases pro bono.
Authors Guild members have access to a range of resources, including The Writer’s Legal Guide, which offers information about libel, privacy, and the limits of free expression, among a bevy of copyright and publishing issues. Certain Authors Guild membership levels also give members access to experienced lawyers. You must be a member of the Author’s Guild to have access to these services. Dues range from $35–125.
C.A. Goldberg, PLLC
Carrie Goldberg founded a pioneering law firm specializing in online abuse cases, especially stalking and nonconsensual intimate imagery. Under the Resources tab, the firm’s website offers tips and guides for victims of sextortion, online blackmail, stalking, and “revenge porn.”
This non-profit organization focuses on reducing online harassment, disinformation, character assassination, and violence. It offers resource guides with steps to combat online harassment, and maintains a list of attorneys who specialize in cyber abuse cases.
Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI)
CCRI is a nonprofit organization fighting online abuse and advocating for social and legal innovation to bring about change. They’re especially known for their work advocating for victims of nonconsensual intimate imagery. CCRI’s attorneys web page lists pro bono legal projects and state-by-state contact information for lawyers offering pro bono consultation in cases of “revenge porn.”
International Women’s Media Foundation Emergency Fund
The IWMF Emergency Fund provides women journalists with small grants for psychological and medical care for circumstances directly related to crises caused by their work, three months of temporary relocation assistance in light of a crisis, and legal aid to fight threats of imprisonment or censorship. To request assistance from the IWMF Emergency Fund, please complete this preliminary questionnaire (en español).
Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE) New Legal Service
The Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors New Legal Service provides pro-bono legal services on contracts for journalists working with English-language American outlets, both in and outside of the United States.
Knight Litigation Fund
The Knight Litigation Fund offers financial assistance to assist FOI cases by helping upfront costs such as filing fees, depositions, and court costs.
Lawyers for Reporters (with the Press Freedom Defence Fund)
Lawyers for Reporters provides pro bono legal support to local media organizations as well as freelance writers in the US. It offers legal assistance when clients face libel, copyright, privacy, or other legal threats through it’s in-house lawyers and network of law firms throughout the country.
Legal Defence Fund
The Legal Defence Fund gives financial and basic legal assistance to journalists and media organizations around the world who face prosecution, imprisonment or cannot afford a lawyer. Such legal assistance includes providing a lawyer or legal expert, support in prison, and basic legal assistance for the families of detained media workers.
Media Defense supports journalists, including bloggers, freelancers, citizen journalists, broadcasters, photojournalists, cartoonists or fact-checkers, and news outlets when they are confronted with legal difficulties while doing their jobs. They can provide funding for your legal defense, investigate abuses, help you find a lawyer or provide technical support to your lawyer.
Minc is an internet defamation law firm that provides support to individuals and businesses. Its Legal Resource Center has myriad articles detailing how to deal with specific types of online harassment and answering common legal questions.
National Crime Victim Bar Association (NCVBA)
Thomson Reuters Foundation
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP)
The RCFP provides pro bono legal representation and other legal resources to protect First Amendment freedoms and the news-gathering rights of journalists. Their Legal Defense and Freedom of Information Act Hotline, manned by RCFP attorneys, is available to working journalists 24/7.
Rory Peck Trust Legal Fund
Legal Fund was built for freelance journalists worldwide facing crises (detention, visa/asylum issues, employment disputes, etc.) to access legal resources, regardless of whether they can cover the legal fees, and in order to be able to resume work.
Society of Professional Journalists Legal Defense Fund
The Society of Professional Journalists Legal Defense Fund provides journalists based in the US with legal or direct financial assistance and to support litigation that enforces public access to government records.
Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts (VLAA)
VLAA is a consortium of organizations providing free and low-cost legal services to arts-related institutions and artists in 28 states. For writers living in New York, the New York Chapter of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts offers legal services to the literary arts community. You can access their intake form for in-house consultations and pro bono placements here.
For a longer list of legal resources both in the US and worldwide, you can visit the Rory Peck Trust Legal Assistance page.