The Government is absolutely clear that abusive and threatening behaviour online – whoever the target - is totally unacceptable.
There is a number of offences which may be committed by those abusing others on social media. Internet communication which is grossly offensive or menacing may fall under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. Sending indecent, grossly offensive or threatening material to another with the purpose of causing distress or anxiety to a person to whom the material is communicated, including by means of the internet, is also an offence under the Malicious Communications Act 1988.
Internet abuse could also amount to an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 if its distribution is carried out as part of a ‘course of conduct’ which alarms a person or causes distress. Under section 4 of that Act, it is also an offence to pursue a course of conduct that repeatedly puts someone in fear of violence.
Changes to the law being taken forward in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill will increase the maximum penalty for offences under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 to 2 years imprisonment, and extend the time within which prosecutions under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 may be brought, to up to three years, as opposed to the current six month limit.
A new criminal offence of disclosing private sexual photographs and films without the consent of the individual appearing in the photograph or film and with intent to cause them distress is also being created in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. This is intended to deal with the behaviour commonly known as ‘revenge porn’. The offence will carry a two year maximum prison sentence.
These steps will help to ensure that people who commit these awful crimes are prosecuted and properly punished.