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Online trolls battled by Swedish law firm

The Law and Internet Institute protected a Swedish woman who was told to kill herself by online trolls last year

A law professor in Sweden and founder of a non-profit law firm dedicated to fighting online trolls has explained that he formed the group to remind internet users that ‘real-life’ social conventions still apply on the web.

The Law and Internet Institute (Institutet för Juridik & Internet - IJI) was founded by Stockholm University civil law professor Mårten Schultz in February 2013.

According to its website, the team aims to “make the internet a better place”.

“When people use freedom of speech to hurt other people, they have a responsibility,” Mr Schultz said in an interview with website The Local.

"If I scream 'Whore!' in your face, I realize it might come back to bite me in the rear, but psychologists talk about dehumanizing the person on the other side of the cable, you don't see the person," Mr Schultz said.

"[The] Internet can stoke a mob mentality," Mr Schultz said regarding a case the firm dealt with in which a Swedish woman was abused online.

Last year, a the woman known as Julia was abused online after she complained that a t-shirt in H&M featured the rapper Tupac Shakur, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in 1993.

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"How do you think the woman who was raped feels when she sees his face in your stores, on your clothes," she wrote on the Swedish clothing giant's Facebook page last year, according to The Local.

The reaction to Julia's comments were violently personal and sexual, with some users of the social media website encouraged her to kill herself, while another wrote that they hoped Julia would be raped.

"You unite against a common enemy and egg each other one. It's a rabble,” Mr Schultz said of the case.

Julia reported the case to the police, but the case was closed after officers said it was difficult to carry out an investigation after the store erased the worst comments from its Facebook page.

Deciding to take the matter into their own hands, the IJI managed to find the names and address of several commenters. Using civil rather than criminal law, the team sent the online bullies a 5,000 kronor (£450) damages claims.

So far, one person has transferred the money, according to the website. 

"It wasn't honourable to write what he wrote," said Mr Schultz, adding: "but it is honourable to confess to what he did, to take responsibility, and to pay up."

Meanwhile in the UK, the Government has backed tougher backed tougher laws on cyber stalkers. The new rules would target offenders who abuse or sexually harass victims using online platforms or on mobile phones.