Trouble for trolls: Unleashing online abuse & harassment may now end in jail sentence

© Toru Hanai
Internet trolls will face prosecution for certain types of online harassment and abuse, including posting degrading photoshopped images or creating derogatory hashtags, under new legal guidelines.

The new rules, released by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on Monday, detail an extensive list of examples of online behavior that could result in legal penalties. The updated guidelines attempt to widen police recourse against online abusers and help protect victims.

“The internet's not an anonymous place where people can post without any consequences. People should think about their own conduct,” Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders told BBC Radio 4.

“If you are grossly abusive to people, if you are bullying or harassing people online, then we will prosecute in the same way as if you did it offline.”

Behavior now classified as criminal activity includes ‘doxxing’ (the publishing of personal information such as home addresses or bank details), encouraging others to retweet grossly-offensive images, and virtual mobbing (encouraging people to harass others online).

Those who humiliate others online by branding them sexually-promiscuous could also face prosecution under the new rules.

The guidelines, however, hold that sexting (exchanging sexualized images) between minors of a similar age should not automatically be considered a criminal offense. Instead, the guidelines propose that only cases where, grooming, bullying or exploitation is suspected should the suspects be prosecuted.

“If they are children, they are the same age [and] there's no suggestion or any coercion or bad motives, then we would not expect that case to be prosecuted. It shows you how careful you have to be about the context of it,” Saunders told the broadcaster.

The guidelines come after a report published in February found that one in four teenagers faces online harassment. Twenty-four per cent of 13- to 18-year-olds reported that they had been targeted because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability or transgender identity.