Twitter Trolling and Legal Implications

by Rhys Brookes on September 28, 2013

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The internet is a medium where free speech can not be controlled, the anonymity and depths mean that policing the web is an almost unobtainable notion. There are many out there that believe the internet should not be policed at all, as it is the most powerful breakthrough in the battle to have our voices heard, but what happens when the medium is abused?

With more and more people sharing the intimate details of their personal and professional lives through social media, an interesting debate is looming over the boundaries of free speech. This includes whether the legal implications are sufficient and do we need to change our thinking in terms of how we use social media.

Over the past 3 weeks the media has been inundated with the latest Twitter Trolling victims, currently mainly women, who have been threatened with rape and even death through this social media platform. The original notion behind the creation of Twitter, was an alternative to Facebook, a platform where people could voice their opinions and support others in their ventures. This new turn is not only non productive, but offers a glimpse into where Twitter may go if the legalities are not reconsidered.

Where current UK laws stand in terms of social media

Although the heads of social media platforms are not changing their rules, or even accepting responsibility, there are some laws in the UK and Wales that are causing some trolls to come unstuck. Although there are currently no specific laws that exist purely for online intimidation/bullying, the most common court cases involving this form of online abuse are Libel cases. Libel simply means actions that directly affect someones reputation, drilled down to meaning “in the estimation of right thinking members of society”. It can do this by exposing them to “hatred, ridicule or contempt..”. As Libel is a classed as a civil offence, there is no threat of jail, but monetary bills can be excessive and there are of course the implications to the defendants reputation.

Currently only 46% of 18-24* year olds are aware that they could be committing a civil offense by posting intimidating or offensive material through social media. So, when will the threat of Libel, become a criminal offense and how is the law going to change to take into account our social online presence?

The Defamation Bill

The Defamation Bill is due to become law later this year and is seen as the first step forward in a bid to bring forth criminal proceedings against any person/s that causes, “substantial harm” to anyone, whether online or off. One move forward from libel, where just reputations come into play. The most recent example of substantial harm through online bullying, is the Askfm debate, where a teenage girl took her own life due to the effects of online trolls. Once the law comes into force, the owners of such websites will be required to hand over the personal information of all users involved in any trolling activity. This may also include the website owners themselves.

Rhys Brooks is a content writer specialising in UK legal issues. Currently Rhys is working with Carter Moore Criminal Defence Solicitors.

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