Matthew Steeples suggests the director of public prosecutions is right to seek “uplifted” sentences for online abusers but argues she does not go far enough
I have been targeted by online trolls for years. As a writer, I accept I am ‘fair game’ for criticism but when that tips over into the kind of vicious abuse I get from unhinged keyboard warriors, it moves into a realm that is unacceptable.
On a personal level, my recent involvement in the case of the Viscount St Davids – a convicted online hate criminal and all round dimwit returning to court this week to again face the repercussions of offering a reward on Facebook to anyone prepared to run over the anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller – not only resulted in negative articles by such oddities as the one-time male escort and Big Brother 11 contestant Benjamin Duncan on the blog of the anti-gay, pro-repatriation of immigrant Traditional Britain website, but also in threatening messages online and a physical attack upon my person. Such abuse has not only taken up considerable amounts of my time and distressed me, it has also caused considerable nuisance to friends and business acquaintances. Now, to her credit, the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has finally also come to the conclusion that “online abusers must be dealt with harshly” and thankfully it looks as if the laws relating to such will be toughened up.
In an article, published in this morning’s The Guardian, Saunders argues “the criminal justice system are ready to listen” with regard to calls for stronger sentences for online abusers. She references “new guidance” and a need for “stiffer ‘uplifted’ sentences” but what she ignores is that the Communications Act 2003, under which the likes of the aforementioned errant peer was prosecuted, does not have any understanding of Facebook (which came into existence one year after the creation of that law in 2004) and Twitter (launched 2006).
Saunders’ acceptance that “an increasing proportion of hate crime is now perpetrated” online is a definite start and her acceptance that they should be treated “just as seriously as those experienced face to face” is certainly positive. Hitting “report abuse” on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, however, gets no one anywhere. It is in fact our government that must go further and introduce stronger regulation that actually holds social media providers themselves to account for the content they allow to be published on their sites.