The UK government may introduce harsher prison sentences for online harassers a.k.a. internet trolls.
The maximum prison sentence for the most severe cases could rise from six months to two years, should the amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – and the Malicious Communications Act – be approved.
The potential changes come in the wake of the “trolling” of television presenter Chloe Madeley, daughter of presenters Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan.
The amendment was proposed by the Conservative MP, Angie Bray, after one of her constituents said that her 14 year old daughter had been “verbally raped” by 2,000 obscene texts sent by a man who was not convicted. The proposals have the backing of the justice secretary, Chris Grayling.
Online abuse has also been at the forefront of the ongoing debate about representation of gender in video games and journalistic ethics. Anita Sarkeesian notably had to cancel a planned talk after a death threat.
Due to the nature of an online debate or argument, the effects can stretch out across the globe, including Sussex University campus. One student was said to have received death threats for supporting the Gamer Gate hashtag.
The student said: “it’s received wisdom that the worst online harassment occurs anonymously, but there is plenty I see on Twitter, Facebook and so forth. The psychological distance of being online seems to be a bigger factor.”
According to the Crown Prosecution service, harassment is ill-defined but “can include repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and contact upon a victim in a manner that could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person.”
Terms including online harassment and trolling are sometimes used interchangeably, but trolling often encompasses far milder comments to get an emotional reaction, but not distress.
The problem of online harassment, however, is growing. According to a study conducted by the US Pew Research Internet Project, 40% of adults have experienced online harassment. Following on from this worrying trend, between 2012-2013 Childline saw 4,507 cases of cyber bullying, up from 2,410 in 2011-12.