UK Government Would Like To Put Internet Trolls In Jail For Two Years

from the and-you-just-got-yourself-some-trolling dept

The war on free speech continues. Andy Przybylski points us to the news that the UK’s Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, is apparently really upset about internet trolls, and thinks they should be jailed for up to two years. He’s pushing to extend an existing law — which we’ve ridiculed in the past — which allows for jailing trolls up to six months. Grayling thinks the threat of even longer sentences would suddenly make people nice online.

“These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life. No-one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media,” Grayling said.

“That is why we are determined to quadruple the current six-month sentence.”

The article also quotes a lawyer claiming — apparently with total seriousness — “There is a public interest in having people put away for a long time. It is putting someone in fear of their life and fear of physical harm.”

No one denies that trolls can be abusive and harassing — to the point of seriously upsetting some people’s lives. But putting people in jail for being assholes? That crosses over a line. Grayling also has an interesting definition of cruelty:

“This is a law to combat cruelty ? and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob. We must send out a clear message: if you troll you risk being behind bars for two years.”

Of course, some people would argue that jailing people for two years for being jerks is actually pretty damn cruel as well. Perhaps the response should be to put Grayling in jail for his own cruelty…

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Comments on “UK Government Would Like To Put Internet Trolls In Jail For Two Years”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:


“These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life. No-one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media,” Grayling said.

So, is it true then that making such comments in person can get you two years in jail? If so, then there’s no need for a special law — the law already exists. If it’s not true, then the two situations are already being treated the same, so a special law is not trying to create equivalency, it’s trying to eliminate it.

Vidiot (profile) says:

Re: Equivalency

“No-one would permit…”

… that’s the operative phrase here. Is there, as you suggest, an existing law? Or are we talking about taking a characteristically-British in-person mark of disapproval… such as tossing a saucer full of clotted cream at someone, or soiling their spats… multiplying by “the Internet”, and totaling up with time spent in the hoosegow? (Forgot the “quadruple” part.)

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Equivalency

But, but… Everything changes when it’s on the Internet! You see, money stolen via online transactions is… Removed from the victims account. Wait, there’s one better example! If somebody harasses people via anonymous messages it’s… Exactly like if they do it via physical papers. But never mind it, I still think we need new laws!

Violynne (profile) says:

“These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life. No-one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media,” Grayling said.
It astounds me how idiots like this don’t see the double standard they’re providing in regard to “national life”.

Most people would think the erosion of rights is also poisoning national life, but I digress.

Only until there’s backlash will these people get a clue.

Anonymous Coward says:

The preaching is to be about threats against one’s life, just like in real life – you threaten (phone call, letter, or in person) it is treated seriously.

There’s no free speech in threats! Freedom of speech does not include protection against threats.

The real issue should not be “free speech” but the application of this proposed extension of an existing law.

Someone says something about someone that’s true or made up or hurtful, free speech, even though it can be harassment which isn’t tolerated in real life!

The real problem will be going too far with the law. Dissenting considered a threat, “I won’t ever eat there again” considered a threat, etc.. Politicians would cry foul at that but we’ve seen them act just as stupid, see airport security or schools arresting children for drawing firearms.

Threatening someone or mass harassment should never be tolerated. The latter is a society problem where people tend to mob and join in the “fun” instead of actually stopping the harasser in their tracks. The former should NEVER be tolerated and they SHOULD be punished!

In Canada, 216.4a of the Criminal Code of Canada states that threatening someone with bodily harm is punishable by 2-5 yrs in prison. Doesn’t matter if it is by phone, in person, or online. Should NOT matter!

But there’s nothing about hurting someone’s feelings, as it should be.

I wouldn’t throw the “freedom of speech attack” criticism at this so quickly Mike. It’s not so cut and dry.

Lord_Unseen (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“In Canada, 216.4a of the Criminal Code of Canada states that threatening someone with bodily harm is punishable by 2-5 yrs in prison. Doesn’t matter if it is by phone, in person, or online. Should NOT matter!”

Correct. Most countries already have laws on the books for threats of bodily harm. There is no need for new laws just because it’s “on the internet”. Besides, the law is talking about trolling, not just threats of bodily harm. I think Mike’s got it right, it’s clearly an attack on freedom of speech.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

We also have anti-harassment laws too!

Doesn’t the online bullying, which is easier to deal with than in the school, but that will simply be a more subtle version to avoid adult intervention.

What do you propose to deal with such situations where people are harassed online and it caries into the school, even after deleting accounts in social media?

Lord_Unseen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I believe you’ve answered your own question. If law is the answer, then by golly, why not use the anti-harassment laws! I dunno, perhaps I’m too much of a simpleton for your obviously superior mind, but it still seems to me that there is no need for new laws just because you append “on the internet”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

How did I answer my own question?

I said the harassment in schools are subtle, so the adults won’t pick up on it, and if the victim complains, it’s all down to a he-said-she-said.

And what’s with the “your obviously superior mind” comment?

I wasn’t insulting to you. Not that I care, even if in person I’d still tell you off if you persisted.

Anyway, the problem as I see it, such as Ms Todd and others, is that where do the teens go to get away from the harassment? So they delete the social media account and change emails, but the harassment still continues.

Shouldn’t there be some sort of punishment for those harassing?

You know, in the work place, harassment is a very serious crime. They actually had it changed to be a health and safety violation. No such punishment exists for teens.

The grieving family could/should have kept the grieving locked down via privacy settings, but they were grieving. They were not thinking calm and logically.

So, insults aside, can you be productive and suggest a means to stop online harassment, at least for teens, because it always bleeds into the real world and makes that person’s life a living hell. Freedom of speech doesn’t apply.

IF it was so easy to use existing laws, why is it that the police seem to claim otherwise? Of course I know there will be the push for more power, but how about a law-view, a non-power-grab-privacy-invading-online-dissention-suppression law view of the situation? Can this family, with existing laws, charge someone with harassment? Or does it need to be in real life only, leaving the “victim” the only option of no social media or online presence whatsoever?

What’s your solution to stop idiots that harass? The police in Halifax, regarding the teen who committed suicide after being drunk and allegedly raped, then the idiots harassed her and shared photos. The photo sharing they were nabbed for, I think, but again, suppose it was NOT shared through phones, only online. Like those websites about ex gf’s and revenge? Should the ex gf not have some sort of recourse?

Lord_Unseen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I assume you’re talking about the story in the last link of this story. As I understand it, rape threats were the biggest problem with that situation. This would fall under threat of bodily harm. If they feel threatened they can go to the authorities, the same way they can in real life. If the authorities are able to find the perpetrators to punish them with this law, they are able to punish them with the laws against threats as well. Yes, if it’s a he-said-she-said kind of thing, that’s rather difficult to punish, but new laws don’t fix that. You still need evidence to convict using this law (or any other they come up with) so that still doesn’t solve the subtle harassment.

For standard trolling, if it’s a single person or small group, there is an “ignore” or “block” or “report” button on most sites you can use. If it’s a large, organized group and things start getting serious, then you have anti-harassment laws and anti-stalking laws. Additionally, in most countries, you can tack on “conspiracy to” when the crime was organized to get anyone involved but not directly committing the crime.

As for my previous post, I was just trolling… Guess I should go to jail.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

No threat, no jail.

Do the old laws address the issue of anonymity? How does one go after someone who’s created fake profiles with Tor? If they don’t want to be found, they won’t and can still harass.

Laws won’t really change that, very true.

My whole argument is using freedom of speech as an argument against the laws proposed, instead of the logical “We already have that law!” argument.

It’s almost a strawman; almost because the freedom of speech argument is assuming new laws are going to be abused to target free speech.

That’s a justified fear, but that’s purely speculation, even though we know it will happen. The legitimate concern should be addressed with “Why not prove how current laws are insufficient?” instead of “This is just an attack on freedom of speech.”

That’s my point.

Lord_Unseen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“That’s a justified fear, but that’s purely speculation, even though we know it will happen.”

If you know something, it stops being speculation. The general rule is, you don’t give the people with the motivation to do something bad the authority to do it. That’s why many countries constitutions (in countries that have them) expressly limit their government’s powers. That’s why new laws need to be narrowly defined. This law is no where near narrow enough to limit abuse (note that I said limit, not eliminate, I know full well that all laws are abused). A law like this, written as broadly as it is, will be abused in every way possible. This will have chilling effects on speech, and not just harassing speech (especially if the punishment is raised to two years). Calling it an attack on free speech doesn’t seem too out of line to me.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“The legitimate concern should be addressed with “Why not prove how current laws are insufficient?” instead of “This is just an attack on freedom of speech.””

I don’t think it’s an either/or thing. Both are legitimate concerns. The argument that no new laws are needed is an easier one to make, though, because that can appeal to all of the people who don’t think that free speech is a big deal.

Anonymous Coward says:

he’s just continuing with the way the UK government started when they brought in the law to censor the internet. they reckoned at the time that it was ‘to protect the children’, to ‘combat the grooming on line of children’ when the whole time it was to suck up to Obama and the entertainment industries and shut down sites that the industries had deemed as ‘infringing’. this move is just another one that is removing privacy and freedom, in this case freedom of speech, and sliding the UK more, faster towards an authoritarian state

Claire Rand says:


They cared about protecting the “children”, then maybe, just *maybe* they should be focusing on the shameful events in Rotherham among other towns where there were indeed children in need of protection.

Instead they focus on laws to prosecute people who say mean things about the politicians who turned a blind eye.

Good thing though, the number of people who are buying this BS seems to be dropping

Victor David says:

Troll bad, law good, me hungry

True, internet trolls are cowards. They are safely behind their computer and can’t face immediate repercussions for their idiotic and childish behavior. They wouldn’t do what they do in person.

And the answer of course is to punish. It’s what dickweeds like Grayling like to do. For every problem, no matter how easy it is to avoid (don’t feed the trolls, right?), punish, punish. How dare they offend me? say the righteous. How dare they mock when I have the awesome indignation to smite?

Instead of simply letting things their course, letting the community cull the trolls or have their fun engaging them if that’s what they want, little MissPantiesTwisted wants to go all armageddon on them. Get a life, and far away from public service would be good.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Troll bad, law good, me hungry

Here’s the problem, not everyone is capable of ignoring or “growing thicker skin” and not every troll is a coward hiding behind a keyboard.

What do you do? If you said “if the person wasn’t hurt and they were drunk, they why should the guy go to jail for rape?” and several people were targeting you, threatening to rape you, do you just ignore it? They find your email, work email, do you keep having the IT person change it? Change your personal email? Close your twitter/Facebook/YouTube/Google+ Whatever social media accounts in effort to get away from it?

Now imagine you’re a teen, your friends/acquaintances saw this, what some jerk posted online. The non-real friends laugh. They tease you online, but now it’s also all around your school. You’re 15, can you just move to a different city? Think about that now as an adult, can you just move because your child is being harassed? Do you tell him/her to get a grip? Grow thicker skin?

Imagine you or your child has to sit through class, listening the snickering, constantly, every day. Walking down the halls while people look with disgust or laugh AT you! Imagine when the teachers do little about it.

Ever been there? The whole class or a large number and the usual silent majority, having a laugh at your expense, every fucking day!

How often does what happened in my class in Gr 7 happen? Student A was being harassed to the point of tears by several other students. It’s Gr7, not high school where you only have an hour or so with the group, you have that group all day!!! Student A broke down. My teacher, known for being strict, did the right thing and ripped into that group, at the door, so the class could hear and see. Today some idiot parent would say “How dare you chastise my child?” Sadly that parent clearly didn’t know how to raise their own kid properly, or their kid would not have done that to begin with.

Now that’s one kid in one class. Imagine the entire school chiming in online, so you close FB, but they have fun with emails, so you change your emails, and phone calls and whispering in the halls to avoid being heard, as if the teachers would actually pay attention to that.

Imagine months of it.

Now tell me freedom of speech is something we should never touch, let anyone say anything.

That’s the problem. Not everyone can say “Hey, fuck you!” Not everyone can humiliate the idiot harassing them.

You can’t always ignore it. That’s the point.

While politicians always abuse laws and twist them to be used in ways not intended, it doesn’t mean things on the internet should be free-reign. Because many times they DO have real life consequences.

What should happen to the harassed people? Ever wonder why some go nuts and shoot their classmates? Perhaps this is why. Perhaps better parenting, sure, but also, accountability and you can’t do that without laws.

Harassment should not be tolerated, online or in person, period!

Being a jerk and crossing the line are two different things. Months of being a jerk, where others chime in, crosses the line. 18 yrs in prison is stupid, but so is defending the jerk with “freedom of speech” because harassment is not meant to be part of the freedom of speech protection!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Troll bad, law good, me hungry

” If you said “if the person wasn’t hurt and they were drunk, they why should the guy go to jail for rape?” and several people were targeting you, threatening to rape you, do you just ignore it?”

Of course not. But in the US (I assume the UK has similar laws), this is already illegal and no less so just because it happened online. No new laws are required.

“Ever been there? The whole class or a large number and the usual silent majority, having a laugh at your expense, every fucking day!”

Yes, I have. But legislation is an inappropriate way of handling this (for so many reasons!). The appropriate way is to have in-class behavior handled through school policies.

“Harassment should not be tolerated, online or in person, period!”

And no one is saying that it should. The argument is whether the internet requires extra-special restrictions that go beyond anything that is applied outside of the internet. I argue that it does not.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Re: Troll bad, law good, me hungry

“Being a jerk and crossing the line are two different things.”

Let us suppose for a moment that this statement is true. Now…how are they different things? What are the objective, defensible criteria for discerning the difference? Who will apply those criteria? How will they be applied?

Or is this a situation akin to the claim of a certain court that it “knows pornography when it sees it”?

If one seeks to codify this (alleged) distinction in law, then one had better be prepared to define it in excruciating and unambiguous detail — because otherwise it will be applied inconsistently, mostly when someone of power, wealth or influence wishes it to be. (And arguably those are the people least in need of such a defense.) And it will be applied against people who are powerless, poor and uninfluential precisely because it can be. (And arguably those are the people most in need.)

I don’t think such a description exists or can be constructed, not without tortuous logic that will never stand up to scrutiny. The difference is often in the eye of the beholder, who can hardly claim to be a dispassionate arbiter.

I think this is yet another case where a grandstanding politician is calling for legislation solely because the phrase “on the Internet” applies. I further think that existing statutes are more than sufficient, if properly and diligently applied, which is of course quite often the problem. (See “Rotherham” for a striking example of failure to…well, failure to do just about everything.)

Trolling has been part of the ‘net since its early days and there’s nothing particularly wrong with it. (If such a statute existed and was enforced, half of Usenet’s users circa 1986 would have been affected.) Overt threats — and I mean real ones, not “kill the ump!” in response to a called third strike with runners on the corners — are covered by existing law…when it’s enforced, which is of course a huge part of the problem. Adding another law won’t fix that.

Victor David says:

Re: Troll bad, law good, me hungry

I should like to add that threats of abuse shouldn’t be tolerated. And since they are already against the law, it seems massively stupid to tag on a special internet clause. This kind of reckless overreach will be abused, like others have been. Getting to the point where you can’t just tell someone to fuck off.

Anonymous Coward says:

What happened UK?

From the creators of the Magna Carta and the rulers of the world to an Orwellian surveillance state with no written constitution that jails people for hurting others’ feelings (roughly as long as actual threats to society, if not longer) and can barely hold on to a few irrelevant islands (and almost lost Scotland), how the mighty have fallen.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

you know what gets me about this faux outrage ? ? ?

this is ALL about made-up, pwetend, bullshit ‘horror’ and ‘terror’ and -*gasp*- humiliation…

by the SAME cohort of pols, moral scolds, and hypocritical asswipes who are ACTUALLY ILLEGALLY MURDERING HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS TO MILLIONS of (mostly) brown-ish, (mostly) moose limb-ish, (mostly) third world poor people the planet over…

but perpetrating WAR KRIMES against the world is nothing to lose sleep over; but a 10 year old snarking online ? ? ?
the end of western civilization ! ! !

THAT is why i despise these false cries of havoc: making the most of inconsequential motes, while they carry around MANY WAR KRIME beams in their eyes…

they disgust me, can i have them sent to jail for at least two years ? ? ?

Anonymous Coward says:

But you can't jail a computer program.

It’s no secret that automated programs are slowly taking over the internet. From spamming comments to filing official legal claims, it can be hard to tell if the “person” on the other end of the internet is a human or a bot.

The copyright enforcers have (apparently successfully) used the argument that the use of bots essentially absolves them of any personal responsibility or liability when bad things happen, even on a massive scale. Would the same defense work for bot-using trolls?

Ruby says:

No one denies that trolls can be abusive and harassing — to the point of seriously upsetting some people’s lives.

Upset? A Point About Harm

“And then there are the women who have been doxxed; who have lost their livelihoods; who have abandoned their online spaces; who have had lies told them; who have had their pictures used to photoshop graphic pornographic or violent (or both) images of them; who have been obliged to live and work under a constant influx of violent threats, most of which are not taken seriously by law enforcement; who are obliged to weather all manner of ‘not technically’ threats—urged to kill themselves; told to die in a fire; had to hear people tell them, over and over and over, that they wish they were dead.

It’s critically important to this conversation to acknowledge that these things constitute people ‘really getting hurt.'”

I could really do with fewer men in the world so desperate do sacrifice women’s right to exist in public without their lives being made a living hell on the alter of dogmatic, absolutist “free speech”.

The fact is, while you may disagree with the specific punishment being put forward here, there HAS to be some sort of punishment for what these men are doing.

rrrrrrr says:

You idiots do understand that “stopping trolls” is just a pretense, and all they really want a law to put anyone they want in jail easily? It’s just like combating gun ownership to “prevent school shootings” or any other depriving of indvidual rights to “fight terrorism”, “protect the children” or every other bull they invented. Pretext, intense propoganda, and then systematical tightening of control with societal approval (“we need to protect our children” or whatever).
Such laws need to be denied always in every form, don’t get blindly sheepled into cages..

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