Cyberbully forced to pay €1.3m in damages after being sued by victim

Michael Basl was accused of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and trespassing

Cyberbully forced to pay €1.3m in damages after being sued by victim

[Flickr/Emily Kidd2012]

A man who claims a cyberbully forced him off a website and made life miserable for his family both on and offline has won a landmark settlement in a civil case against his tormenter, after a US court awarded him $1.4m (€1.26m) in damages.

William Moreno, 33, has Asperger’s Syndrome and suffers from bouts of depression. The 33-year-old, who lives with his parents Sharon and Richard in Sterling, Virginia, joined a local web forum called Fairfax Underground in 2009, where he would regularly post under his screen name Mr Misery until 2012. The subjects of his posts ultimately saw him banned from the site, after he repeatedly made jokes about 9/11, violence against women, and sexual violence against children.

Moreno claims he struggles to develop social relationships when talking to people face to face and that the website offered him an opportunity to interact with others. His father told a local TV station that his son has a “very dark humour” and that William “did do some strange things” while using the site.

When the moderators on Fairfax Underground banned Mr Misery, another user, eesh (later identified as the online persona of Michael Basl), started a sustained campaign of harassment against Moreno and his family. Basl is accused of sending threatening messages to Moreno’s email address, leaving notes on his car, falsely accusing Moreno of sexually assaulting a teenage girl, as well as posting online that Moreno was working on a plot to bomb a local school (which prevented Sharon Moreno from getting security clearance on a job she had applied for).

Furthermore, Basl is accused of breaking into and vandalising the Moreno’s home, and posting a message on Fairfax Undergroung, posing as William Moreno, saying that he had murdered his parents. The last message saw local police officers break down the Moreno’s front door and enter their home with their firearms drawn.

Basl has admitted to carrying out some of the sustained harassment over a period of a few years, but has denied others.

William Moreno, who says his mental health was severely tested by the experiences, filed a lawsuit against Basl, under grounds of defamation, stalking, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and trespassing. According to The Washington Post, Basl was found guilty on all counts, except for trespassing, with the court awarding $1.4m in damages. Basl said he was “very disappointed” with the decision, while Moreno said he hoped Basl has “learned something” and would stop his harassment of the family.

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