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UK issues new guidelines for punishing online trolls

Prosecutors are advised the creation of fake social media accounts may amount to a criminal offence.

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Lawmakers in the UK are slowly coming to the realisation that online abuse can be just as damaging as its real-world equivalent. Last year, revenge porn became a specific crime, and the maximum prison sentence for internet trolls was increased from six months to two years. Acknowledging these serious cybercrimes is one thing, but it's also important to know what exactly constitutes a punishable offence. To this end, The Crown Prosecution Service is proposing an update to its Social Media Guidelines to help criminal prosecutors bring keyboard cowards to justice.

The revised guidelines, which are effective immediately but subject to change at the end of a ten-week open consultation, include a few new and specific offences. Just for reference, revenge porn, cyberbullying and other types of online harassment, communications that violate a court order and those that infer a credible threat of violence were all covered in the previous guidelines, though these categories have been expanded to include obvious crimes like blackmail and grooming.

The updated documentation, however, now states that the creation of websites and fake online profiles may amount to an offence where the intention is to humiliate, offend, alarm or attack a victim's reputation. "Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship," which is tantamount to online domestic abuse, has also been detailed in the new guidelines, having been formalised as a criminal offence in December last year. Online activity that falls under the category of violence against women and girls now has its own section within the guidelines, too.

With these new guidelines, criminal prosecutors have a richer crib sheet to reference when pursuing cases of online abuse. And when the wide-reaching Investigatory Powers Bill that introduces new surveillance powers inevitably makes it into law, the government promises it'll be easier to catch offenders, too. Maybe we won't need that cyberbullying insurance after all.

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