By Mark Chesson
New guidelines on dealing with trolls have been released by the Crown Prosecution Service which include the prosecution of those that create abusive hashtags and images. In addition to this, the new guidance looks to reduce the amount of ‘grossly offensive’ content on the internet through the threat of prosecution.
As the internet continues to grow, so too does the problem of ‘trolling’. ‘Trolling’ is basically a form of cyberbullying in which the victim is subjected to a torrent of abuse over the internet. This abuse can take a wide range of forms such as sexism, racism and homophobia, with ‘trolls’ attempting to validate their lack of self-worth through the destruction of other peoples. With this in mind, I believe that the CPS’ new guidelines can be seen as a welcome introduction that will provide police with the necessary information to prosecute cyberbullies.
Some people might believe that cyberbullying can be solved with the simple disregarding of the abuse by the victim. For example, if somebody receives an abusive message on social media there is nothing stopping them from deleting it and blocking the offensive account. However, the emotional impact that is attached to the message will continue long after its deletion, and the relentless nature of trolls can make them hard to evade entirely. It’s far more common that, having already deleted the message and blocked the abuser, they will being messaging the victim again whilst using a separate account. Due to the large amount of personal information that we post on websites such as Facebook, trolls can gain access to different methods of contacting their victim. In the instance of an anonymous woman interviewed by the BBC, the trolls were able to obtain her telephone number. She recalls that they proceeded to call her home at ‘three or four in the morning threatening to petrol-bomb our house’. There are also instances of the trolls creating an image or a hashtag that is deeply offensive to the victim. When this happens, there is nothing that the victim can do to prevent it being circulated around the internet. The guidelines specifically mention the use of Photoshop to generate an offensive image as an offence worthy of prosecution. Since this would be entirely out of the victim’s control, it seems right for there to be some legislation preventing it, or at least creating a deterrent.
Furthermore, the guidelines mention an intent to deal with internet trolling in the same manner as it would be treated in a real world situation. If somebody randomly ran up to another person in the street and began to racially abuse them it would be seen as hate crime. Therefore, if somebody randomly uses a racist term in regard to a person on twitter it should also be seen as a hate crime.
Overall, I believe that the CPS’ new guidelines on dealing with trolls is a step in the right direction for resolving instances of trolling as with the potential for prosecution looming over would-be trolls, they might be deterred. Since trolling can be so harmful and obstructive to the lives of its victims, and can so often be out of their control, it is right that it is dealt with as a police matter, and it will hopefully result in a less toxic internet environment.