Internet trolls beware, your prison cell awaits

With growing interest on the abuse of people on the internet, some amazing figures have emerged from the Ministry of Justice showing the huge rise in the number of prosecutions in the last decade.

I am indebted to the pay wall site of Media Lawyer for permission to reproduce much of their findings and to Inforrm blog who have also published the report.

Ten years ago just 143 people were convicted of the crime  to send “by means of a public electronic communications network” a message or other material that is “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.

Last year – the latest figure for convictions had soared to 1209 – an extraordinary eight fold increase.

As Media Lawyer reports:

“The previously little-used section [ Section 127 of the malicious communications act 2003] has come to prominence in recent years following a string of high-profile cases of so-called trolling on social media sites.

It can also cover phone calls and e-mails, and cases of “persistent misuse” which cause the victim annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety.

Ministry of Justice  statistics show that 1,501 defendants – including 70 juveniles – were prosecuted under the Act last year, while another 685 were cautioned.

Of those convicted, 155 were jailed – compared with just seven a decade before. The average custodial sentence was 2.2 months.

Compared with the previous year there was an 18% increase in convictions under Section 127 but the number has dipped since a peak in 2012 when there were 1,423.”

The article adds:

” The issue of online abuse came under scrutiny after cases such as the targeting of Labour MP Stella Creasy, who spoke of the “misery” she suffered caused after a Twitter troll re-tweeted menacing posts threatening to rape her and branding her a “witch”.

Other victims of trolling have included campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and Chloe Madeley, daughter of Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan.

The MoJ figures also revealed a similar rise in the number of convictions under the Malicious Communications Act, which makes it an offence to send a threatening, offensive or indecent letter, electronic communication or article with the intent to cause distress or anxiety.

Last year, 694 people were convicted of offences under this Act – the highest number for at least a decade and more than 10 times more than the 64 convictions recorded in 2004.”

I have noticed  an increase – since this blog has highlighted  child sexual abuse – in the number of survivors who speak out and then find themselves the target of trolls – sometimes saying they don’t believe their story.

The government  will increase penalties. Media lawyer reports it will increase: “the maximum sentence for trolls convicted under the Malicious Communications Act from six months to two years and extend the time limit for prosecutions under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 to three years from the commission of offence.”

Obviously there has to be a balance between pursuing people and free speech – with the previous head of the Crown Prosecution Service now a Labour MP, Keith Starmer, saying there must be a ” high threshold” and people practising internet jokes should not be prosecuted. But what is disturbing -and I intend to return to this is that the abuse and misuse of the internet is growing  and there may be a case for even harsher penalties for the most persistent offenders.