According to the Evening Standard Alison Saunders, the UK’s Public Prosecutor, has warned that under new guidelines, the government will crack down on social media trolling. Igniyte comments.
Social media trolling
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are increasingly becoming part of the fabric of everyday British life. Data indicates 1 that 86% of UK adults use social media, with two-thirds doing so every day. Social media can help you develop a good reputation online, but it also opens you up to trolling, where people post offensive messages with the intention of wilfully sowing discord online.
Should a troll target you on social media, it could devastate your personal reputation online. Social media portals are seen as trusted sources of information by Google, so they rank highly on searches for your name. Most people only look at the first page of a Google search 2, so if a troll posts unflattering content about you on social media, there’s a high chance people will see it, impacting your reputation.
It is important to note that online trolling is illegal. Under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, it is a crime to send through “means of a public electronic communications network” a message or other material which is “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.” Under the Malicious Communications Act, it is illegal to send threatening, offensive or indecent letters, electronic communications, or articles which are designed to ferment anxiety or distress.
Online-trolling related convictions are rising gradually. 3 The number of people found guilty under Section 127, for example, increased from 143 in 2004 to more than 1,200 in 2014. But social media trolling is still a major problem, especially with the rise of smartphones, which allow people to access these platforms anytime, anywhere. In order to deal with this issue, the British government has now issued new guidelines which could see more people convicted for social media trolling.
Cracking down on social media trolls
Now, Saunders warned, more people could be convicted for a range of social media hate crimes. This includes developing derogatory hashtags and posting photo-shopped images of someone to humiliate them on social media. Other offences include ‘doxing,’ where trolls post someone’s personal details online and ‘virtual mobbing,’ where a group of trolls start a social media harassment campaign.
Under this guidance, the government has made a point of highlighting social media crimes which impact women. This includes ‘baiting,’ where a troll humiliates a girl or woman by casting them as promiscuous or posting altered images of them online. With these new guidelines ‘sexting’ where under 18s send personal images to each other online, is less likely to result in convictions, unless it is part of bullying, grooming or exploitation efforts. Commenting on these guidelines, Saunders said: “Social media can be used to educate, entertain and enlighten — but there are also people who use it to bully, intimidate and harass. Ignorance is not a defence and perceived anonymity is not an escape. Those who commit these acts or encourage others to do the same can and will be prosecuted.”
Dealing with social media trolls
This is good news, as it means if you are targeted by social media trolls, you can report them, safe in the knowledge that they are more likely to be convicted. But once a troll has posted offensive content on your social media profile, they have already caused significant damage to your reputation online. Therefore, it is key that you learn how to deal with trolls, to safeguard your personal image.
It is wise to take preventative measures, such as utilising social media privacy settings. On Facebook, for example, you can use an audience selector tool, which allows you to determine who sees your updates, images and photos, reducing the risk that you will be targeted by trolls. It is also a good idea to install anti-virus software and use password protection systems like Last Pass, limiting the chances of cyber-criminals hacking your accounts and posting offensive content from your account.
But what about when you are confronted by a social media troll? Aside from reporting them to the authorities, you can also report them to the platform in question, citing the relevant law and they will deal with the issue. It is sometimes best to ignore social media trolls, as these people often thrive on attention so starve them of it and they may just go away. It is also key to create digital assets with relevant content e.g. blogs, so they rank highly on Google searches for your name, shielding it from offensive online content.