With Internet abuse on the rise, the British government has now taken moves to enforce a harsh penalty on online trolls.
Internet trolling: harmless joke or wave of abuse? It’s a bit of both, actually. At the best of times trolling is just a case of you sending a Rick Roll video to your friend, knowing that they’re foolish enough to click it and be serenaded by the ultimate 80s jam. But, at its ugliest trolling can cause serious repercussions. From threats of murder and other violent crimes to general abuse that mocks someone’s appearance, the nasty side of trolling is encouraged by the anonymous nature of the Internet. It’s a real problem but not one that existing laws are fully equipped to combat. In the UK however, that could be set to change.
As it stands, the UK has a law called the ‘Communications Act’. Passed in 2003, the law aims to govern all media including online and broadcast making sure that while users’ rights of free speech are kept in tact, misuses of that freedom are dealt with appropriately. The problem is, the Communications Act is over a decade old and the world as we know has changed massively in that time. For example, sending malicious messages on social media is listed as a criminal offense thanks to the law but if convicted the maximum sentence is just 6 months. Granted, that’s certainly harsh enough to deter anyone from misusing Twitter, Facebook et. al, but for the lasting damages that it can cause many would agree that this is not nearly enough.
Affecting England and Wales only, under the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill 2013-14 to 2014-15, that 6 months offense would be upped to two entire years of jail time in the most serious of cases. It’s needed, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling says, to “take a stand against a baying cyber-mob”. He also adds that “No-one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media. That is why we are determined to quadruple the current six-month sentence.”
But how would people decide which messages posted on social media are the most serious? Presumably, threats of violent crimes would be at the higher end of the punishment scale but ultimately, changing the law could cause an uncertain grey area. There’s also a concern that sarcastic or jokey posts could be misunderstood as genuine and so like some crimes, would it be up to the victim to report the posts or press charges? These are all questions that will need to be answered before the amendment to the law is made so when the bill is debated next week we should know more.
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