Guy In Australia Pleads Guilty To Criminal Trolling On Facebook, Faces 3 Years In Jail

from the trolling-is-a-crime? dept

Let's start off with this: there's no legitimate way to defend Zane Alchin, a guy in Australia who appears to be an all around horrible person. He went on Facebook, and after seeing a friend of his post (and mock) a woman's Tinder profile, proceeded to post a whole bunch of pretty horrible and misogynistic posts on Facebook, including some pretty horrifying statements about "raping feminists." I won't post any of his other comments, though they're covered in some of the articles written about the case. Alchin, who now claims he was just drunk and trolling, and also insisted he wasn't breaking any laws, has since discovered that apparently he was breaking a weird Australian law, for which he's now pled guilty.
While Alchin admitted to posting the comments, he told police during an interview that "he was drunk at the time and the comments do not represent what he is about", the court documents said.

He said he was "internet trolling", the documents said, and was unaware it was a crime.

In January, Alchin entered a plea of not guilty to the offence, which carries a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment.

But during a brief court appearance on Monday, his lawyer said his client would now plead guilty. Alchin is due to be sentenced on July 29.
The law in question is 474.14 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code that is insanely vague. It basically says it's against the law to use a telecommunications network to "commit a serious offense." But "serious offense" is basically left unclear. The charges against Alchin said that he used the internet to "menace, harass or cause offence." And many in Australia are pointing to the case as a landmark case against online harassment.

Again, Alchin appears to be a creep who deserves to have his name dragged through the mud for what he wrote online, but the idea that he's now facing three years in jail for what amounts to criminal "trolling" seems extreme and extremely problematic. We've certainly seen that Australia is no fan of free speech, with several questionable court rulings in the past few years, but criminalizing trollish behavior online seems like the kind of thing that is going to backfire in a big, big way. Lots of people say stuff online that may "cause offense." I'm offended by the idea that people face jail time solely for being jerks.

But when you criminalize offending someone, you actually hand tremendous power to people to attack others over "being offended." There seems to be this rush to try to criminalize speech people don't like, when it seems like most of this issue could easily be solved with simply more counterspeech. Shame Alchin all you want for being a jackass, but don't put him in jail.

Filed Under: australia, criminal speech, criminal trolling, free speech, harassment, trolling, zane alchin
Companies: facebook


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 9:04am

    Let's start off with this: there's no legitimate way to defend Zane Alchin,

    You just made the case for removing any protections on freedom of speech. There is always a legitimate way to defend people like Zane.

    So congrats, while you intentions seem pure, they are a disaster in practicality. Just like art, what you find offensive and indefensible others might find beauty and value.

    Sure I find Zane's comment's misogynist, but freedom of speech also means defending that right even by people I think may not deserve them. So yea, there is a legitimate defense of his trashy comments.

    Refusing to defend a dirt bag is the avenue that is used to take away the rights of the justified.

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    • icon
      CK20XX (profile), 22 Jun 2016 @ 9:32am

      Re:

      All that would be true if the article was only one sentence long.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 9:48am

        Re: Re:

        care to elaborate? The length of the article or its contents has no bearing on the core Principal of Freedom of Speech.

        Imagine if a person like him sat in judgement of your words? Remember, there are actual historical accounts where people saying GOOD things went down hard!

        There is a core purpose behind defending speech, regardless of the trash uttered, unless it can be proven to be lies/slander!

        Now, if someone (not associated with law enforcement) also took Zane's ass out back and beat the fuck out of him... I probably would refuse to convict them where I to have the benefit of serving on such a jury.

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        • icon
          CK20XX (profile), 22 Jun 2016 @ 11:02am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Well, you pretty obviously didn't read the entire thing. You just reacted to the first sentence. The second and third paragraphs seem to support your points pretty well, after all, and they didn't make me leery like your swear words have.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 2:29pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Please see my response to Mike.

            I wish everyone was older than 5 here and had some comprehension skills.

            I am only referring to that one sentence. The rest of the article does not matter. I guess I will need to start typing out minutiae to explain to all of you simpletons just what I meant.

            The journey to removing liberty always starts with a single step, and every step to remove liberty, including the first one, should be constantly attacked. This is the price of eternal vigilance.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 4:38pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Ahhhh - wut?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              CK20XX (profile), 22 Jun 2016 @ 6:58pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I am only referring to that one sentence. The rest of the article does not matter.

              That's where you're wrong. By deliberately omitting important information (i.e., the rest of the article), you've chosen to dive head-first into a pool of ignorance. Looks like you're also trying to justify it by saying that everyone else except you is crazy. That's a dangerous, self-destructive power fantasy to get sucked into.

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            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 23 Jun 2016 @ 1:42am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "I wish everyone was older than 5 here and had some comprehension skills."

              "I am only referring to that one sentence. The rest of the article does not matter"

              Actual comprehension skills involve understanding context, which you completely removed by only looking at that one sentence. The article as a whole had a completely different meaning to the one you're addressing.

              "The journey to removing liberty always starts with a single step, and every step to remove liberty, including the first one, should be constantly attacked."

              As should lying through omission.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 11:09am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Are you retarded?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 10:13am

      Re:

      sigh...

      First time here at TD? Is this the only article of Mike's you've ever read?

      Obviously, Mike means that "there's no legitimate way to defend" the sentiment of Zane Alchin's statements in the context of polite and civil conversation (versus defending them in a court of law where jail time is the punishment).

      TD pro-tip: Mike's done more to defend freedom of speech to date than you ever will in your entire life.

      So please, take a pill. I assure you my friend, you and Mike are on the same page concerning freedom of speech.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 2:36pm

        Re: Re:

        Obviously, Mike means that "there's no legitimate way to defend" the sentiment of Zane Alchin's statements in the context of polite and civil conversation (versus defending them in a court of law where jail time is the punishment).

        Yes, I did understand that. But that is not what he wrote. Words mean something and syntax is important. How it was written sets a terrible impression.

        Yes, I know Mike is a big supporter of Freedom of Speech. I am making it clear that I hated the line he wrote because of how it can be used against freedom of speech.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 22 Jun 2016 @ 1:32pm

      Re:

      You just made the case for removing any protections on freedom of speech. There is always a legitimate way to defend people like Zane.

      Did you read the rest of the post? I am defending his right to speak. I'm not defending the content of his speech.

      Sure I find Zane's comment's misogynist, but freedom of speech also means defending that right even by people I think may not deserve them. So yea, there is a legitimate defense of his trashy comments.

      Congrats. You basically said the same thing I said in my post, but claim you're disagreeing with me.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 2:25pm

        Re: Re:

        No, you like everyone else, completely misunderstand.

        In short I am attacking that Sentence. It never should have been uttered regardless of the rest of your story. Just because you started recanting that position in the following paragraphs is immaterial to the point of my argument.

        NEVER say that a liberty as important as Speech is indefensible. Saying that a person that said something is indefensible is the same as saying speech should not be protected.

        If I need to write 500 lines to explain it like everyone is 5 years old then I get a TLDR response. Instead, I have to keep it short and risk comprehension errors by all the juveniles that populate this site!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 5:44pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          If everyone else misunderstands you, methinks everyone else isn't the problem here.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2016 @ 1:28am

          Re: Re: Re:

          ::shrug::

          You say it yourself, "NEVER say that a liberty as important as Speech is indefensible".

          Mike isn't defending the guy's speech, Mike's defending the guy's liberty of speech. The speech itself was despicable and not defensible.

          It seems odd that you cannot grasp this.

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        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 23 Jun 2016 @ 1:44am

          Re: Re: Re:

          So, why are you so insecure that you not only refuse to consider actual context but feel the need to attack everyone else's intellectual capabilities?

          "No, you like everyone else, completely misunderstand."

          No, we understand you. At best, you're overreacting to an out-of-context quote and what you imagine it means. At worst, you're the kind of sad little man who gets off on calling other people names on the internet. Nothing to be misunderstood here.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Zem, 22 Jun 2016 @ 4:42pm

      Re:

      Australia does not have any "freedom of speech" enshrined in legislation. There is no "protection".

      Your high horse is geographically flawed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 9:11am

    Libertarianbullshit.com

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 22 Jun 2016 @ 9:42am

    being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

    No matter if you believe he should be punished or not, claiming everything is okay because "I'm drunk" is not acceptable.

    Generally people know they might do stupid stuff when drunk. But not taking responsibility for your actions because you decided to do something that by its very nature can cause a loss of control is no excuse. Just ask the victims of a drunken rapists or driver.

    Just like being drunk, being high, or eating a milkyway is no excuse for you to be able to just do whatever you want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 9:55am

      Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

      Instead of 3 years jail, I would have loved to see him get 3 years of appropriate community service and mandatory substance abuse counseling. If he figures his actions were due to his being drunk, that's a good cause for ensuring he never becomes drunk again.

      Much better to try and fix the issue, rather than to make it worse by locking him up, if he hasn't proven to be a physical danger to society.

      And all this discussion can happen completely outside the issue of whether it should be possible to jail someone for expressing something "on the internet".

      Since this is commonwealth law, does that mean that similar laws are on the books in New Zealand, the UK, Canada, Jamaica and Hong Kong?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 9:59am

      Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

      Rape and Drunk Driving = Trolling

      Got it.

      Oh, and he pleaded guilty. So there's that too.

      ~~~How to internet:

      Bob sees something online that offends him.

      Bob moves on.

      Bob is smart.

      Be like Bob.

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      • identicon
        bob, 22 Jun 2016 @ 11:11am

        Re: Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

        Thanks for the compliment of being smart. /s

        No I am not equating trolling to rape and drunk driving. What I was stating is that no one (regardless of the offending action) should use the excuse "I'm drunk" to justify what they did.

        I don't think he should be punished with jail for just trolling (assuming that us all there was). However it is annoying that people will use drunkenness or being high (the milkyway was referring to the lame commercials) as the excuse for what they did as the knee-jerk reaction when they find themselves in potential trouble.

        My point is irregardless of the charges brought against him.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 11:51am

          Re: Re: Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

          I read nothing in the article that suggested that Alchin was expecting to be forgiven because he was intoxicated at the time. More that he was offering it as a contributing factor in his abhorrent behavior and he was not, "that guy". The fact that he was drinking at the time is completely relevant to his defense. Not that he expected it would absolve him of all responsibility, but that it would help provide context for his remarks. As it quite clearly does just that. And he would be stupid not to mention it to the authorities.

          To be clear, I agree with you that being drunk is never an excuse that deflects consequence. But unless you've never done anything stupid and/or embarrassing and/or regretful while intoxicated, then you know damn well it's one hell of a contributing factor in such behavior.

          PS No /s intended. Bob is smart. Bob knows not to use the word "irregardless".

          Grammar Nazi strikes again! Muhaha

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          • identicon
            bob, 22 Jun 2016 @ 12:17pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

            Lol. Got me on the grammar.


            To be clear, I agree with you that being drunk is never an excuse that deflects consequence. But unless you've never done anything stupid and/or embarrassing and/or regretful while intoxicated, then you know damn well it's one hell of a contributing factor in such behavior.

            I have never been intoxicated. If it is such a contributing factor then why do it and lose control of yourself in the first place?

            People do enough stupid, embarrassing, and regretful stuff without intoxication already.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 12:51pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

              I believe one of the original tenets of the internet is that - No rules of grammar or spelling shall ever be enforced in an uneditable comments section. Which bodes very well for most of us. ;)

              "I have never been intoxicated."

              Good for you. If you've never been intoxicated then I can see why you might find it somewhat counterintuitive.

              "If it is such a contributing factor then why do it and lose control of yourself in the first place?"

              If loss of control were the only effect of intoxication, then I imagine it would be much less popular. However, it's not. And not everyone who drinks loses control. And not everyone who loses control, loses control on a regular basis. And to those that do lose control on a regular basis, please seek help. It can happen to the best of us, no shame there.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                bob, 22 Jun 2016 @ 3:41pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

                I get that loss of control is not the reason people drink. Maybe a few people do it for that reason. But I just never saw the potential loss of control as worth it.

                If people drink I don't have a problem with it. Just don't like it when people try to use it as a way to justify their actions when they do something stupid.

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    • icon
      MrTroy (profile), 22 Jun 2016 @ 5:30pm

      Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

      Sometimes I think I'd like to see it go the other way around, myself. If being drunk was a multiplier on any sentence, rather than a mitigator, then I like to think we'd see people doing less stupid stuff while drunk...

      Of course, I could write pages about why it's actually a terrible idea, so I leave it at occasional daydreams.

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    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 23 Jun 2016 @ 1:45am

      Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

      "Just ask the victims of a drunken rapists or driver."

      So, you think that trolling Facebook is the same severity of action as rape? Wow.

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      • identicon
        Wendy Cockcroft, 23 Jun 2016 @ 5:41am

        Re: Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

        No, Paul, he says "Don't use 'But I wuz drunk, Yeronner' as an excuse for bad behaviour." I'm with him on that.

        I'm also with him on not sending the creep to jail. FB should have suspended his account and warned him that the next time he made remarks like that, his account would be permanently suspended (FB doesn't delete accounts).

        Public shaming is sufficient, the law didn't need to get involved for jerk-y behaviour. I'd personally only advocate getting the law involved if he kept going after someone using sockpuppet accounts after being blocked. That's harassment and deserves to be brought to the attention of the authorities. But Zane Alchin made some horrible comments, and that was it.

        People make comments I don't like all the time. That's what the Mute or Block buttons are for.

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        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 23 Jun 2016 @ 6:05am

          Re: Re: Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

          "No, Paul, he says "Don't use 'But I wuz drunk, Yeronner' as an excuse for bad behaviour.""

          If that's all he's saying, he has a horrible way of putting it. Comparing internet trolling (a pastime too many people seem to enjoy doing sober) with rape only undermines your own point. Doubly so if you're a tee totaller who's attacking the very idea of getting drunk in the first place, which appears to be his stance.

          "FB should have suspended his account and warned him that the next time he made remarks like that, his account would be permanently suspended"

          Who says they haven't? I presume that what he did was also against their T&Cs and they'd have had some of the comments reported to them as well as the police.

          Although, I hope you're not saying that FB should have been monitoring all his comments live and jumped in before he made further comments? Because the logistics of that are impossible and not positive.

          "People make comments I don't like all the time. That's what the Mute or Block buttons are for."

          Yes, tools are there if people want to use them.

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          • identicon
            bob, 23 Jun 2016 @ 2:02pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

            Guess you didn't see my explanation to anonymous coward, above this branch of the comments.

            I did clarify that they are not the same thing and that driving drunk or drunk rape is way worse than trolling drunk. Even if the guy did nothing illegal he still was a jerk to someone else and when initially confronted about it said, well I was drunk.

            The knee-jerk reaction is the problem I am pointing out. Society as a whole would be a lot better off if everyone just took responsibility for their actions instead of providing an excuse for why he or she did something.

            This reasoning is especially true if you know drinking, drugs, or whatever, has a higher likelihood of causing you to do something stupid or illegal. Either don't use whatever causes you to lose control of your actions or have protections in place so you and others are safe if you engage in something that causes you to lose control.

            For example, drinking alcohol may cause you to get drunk, so either limit your consumption, don't drink in the first place, or make sure people are around to prevent you from doing something bad if you do get drunk.

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            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 25 Jun 2016 @ 5:26pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

              You're right, i didn't see the other comments before replying. But, the point stands, I believe.

              "Even if the guy did nothing illegal he still was a jerk"

              But, that's the entire point. Merely being a jerk usually doesn't involve jail time. He is obviously a hateful little person, as even while drunk most decent people would not say such things. His words were despicable, and that's even without considering the censored posts. But, the punishment for being a dick on the internet just seems rather skewed.

              "This reasoning is especially true if you know drinking, drugs, or whatever, has a higher likelihood of causing you to do something stupid or illegal."

              The entire point of the story is that he didn't know that it was illegal, and that people troll on the internet all the time without legal consequences. Now, I will never excuse such behaviour and I think that people who do that sort of thing (many while sober) are assholes, but there's the sticking point. Acting like a dick happens when people drink, and it is up to that person to understand it and curb that behaviour. But, while sat in his own home, he would not have considered that it was illegal to the point of imprisonment, and would not have considered that even if he hadn't a sip of drink. If the regret is genuine and he takes steps to curb that behaviour or make reparations for the damage caused, "I was drunk" is a fair reasoning for being a dick, as long as it's not a regular occurence.

              He deserves to have negative consequences for his actions, but to compare it to clearly illegal behaviour like drunk driving is not understanding the problem here. Again, don't get me wrong, he deserves some retribution and the alcohol consumption doesn't absolve him of that. But asking for leniency in front of a court that has the ability to ruin his life over Facebook posts is hardly the same as saying "sorry your honour I didn't realise I was raping that woman because I had too many shots". I don't take issue with you finding it a weak excuse as such, I just don't think that 3 years in jail is a proportionate response and lack of faculties does seem to be a reasonable defence against the maximum punishment available for words.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2016 @ 5:42am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

                First of all, Ignorantia juris non excusat. Second of all that is a DUMB ASS law.
                People forget Facebook is just a corporation and take it way too seriously. It could even disappear at some point. Myspace was hot shit until it almost went under in less than 3 years. This is why I don't have (and won't create) a Facebook account.

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                • identicon
                  Non facefuckbook trolling, 29 Jun 2016 @ 10:40am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

                  That facefuckbook has done enough to deface itself.

                  Me neither..

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    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 23 Jun 2016 @ 5:33am

      Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

      What Bob says. If you know that taking alcohol in turns you into an epic prat, either drink less or stick to soft drinks. I'm sick and tired of "But I wuz drunk, yeronner!" being used to excuse crime.

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      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 23 Jun 2016 @ 6:07am

        Re: Re: being drunk is not an excuse to do whatever you want.

        The problem is, the guy didn't realise what he was doing was a crime in the first place. Stupid, offensive, unacceptable? Yes. But even drunk, I'd wager he'd not have gone so far had he realised he could face jail time for it.

        Nobody doesn't realise that rape and drink driving are crimes. Internet trolling, the sober pursuit of a million assholes online? Not so much.

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  • icon
    streetlight (profile), 22 Jun 2016 @ 10:47am

    Did he threaten to do violance?

    There are some limits to free speech, even in the US. I haven't gone to the trouble of looking up any of Alchin's texts but if he threatened to do harm to his correspondents than that could very well be a criminal offense even in the US.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 11:01am

    Ignorance of the law is no excuse .. unless you're an LEO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 11:12am

    At least he plead it. This would have been a terrible case to try to fight, because it would have been easy to convict the disgusting bastard, and it would have set a horrible precedent. Not that the charges aren't a horrible enough precedent, but this is not the case to fight it on.

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  • icon
    twistedmentat (profile), 22 Jun 2016 @ 12:39pm

    There's a pretty big difference between calling someone an idiot and using sexually violent language to intimidate and pressure someone to be quiet.

    As with most good laws the serious offense statement leaves room to move as society changes without having to micromanage the legislation. Serious offense is also likely defined by existing case law. Could it be abused? Of course. That's always a risk with any legislation.

    And it's pretty damn unreasonable to imply that they'll be getting 3 years for this. Unless this person has a history of convictions like this they are likely to get a fraction of that if any prison time at all. Especially if it is a first offense. Australia is not the stupid US when it comes to this stuff.

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    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 22 Jun 2016 @ 1:07pm

      Re:

      "That's always a risk with any legislation."

      But the more vague and broad (i.e., the more "room to move") a law is, the greater the likelihood that it will be abused. The benefit of the "flexibility" of these laws is purely for the government -- either to allow them to do less work ("micromanaging legislation") or to allow them to engage in more abusive behavior without technically violating the law.

      That's why broad and vague laws are bad, and whatever legitimate purposes they may have do not counterbalance the risk.

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      • icon
        MrTroy (profile), 22 Jun 2016 @ 5:32pm

        Re: Re:

        Not to mention, this sounds like a pile-on law - making it illegal to do illegal stuff "on the internet".

        If it's already illegal face-to-face, then you don't need the internet law. If it's not illegal face-to-face, then why is it illegal on the internet? If these laws end up pushing abuse off the internet and into face-to-face encounters... have we actually improved anything?

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 2:16pm

    Shouldn't he be charged with harrassment instead of using some obscure law to extent the sentence?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 23 Jun 2016 @ 5:43am

      Re:

      It'd have to have been consistent and over a certain period of time, I don't know what the precise details are. I don't think one bout of rudeness and name-calling is harassment. Chase me round the internet doing that on every platform I use, using sockpuppets after I've banned you... I'd call that harassment.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 7:36pm

    Be more clear about what you're saying. "A telecommunications network" was originally applied to phone lines and was extended to the Internet. Honestly, I think that's preferable to trying to make special cyber-bullying laws as some other countries have done. It basically means that if it's a criminal offence to do it on the Internet, it's an offence to do it over the phone or via radio or whatever methods of communication will exist in the future.

    So if this person had called a person or organisation and said the same thing, would it just be "trolling", or would it be more serious? Fortunately, the law doesn't care. If you threaten and/or intimidate people, it doesn't matter how it's done - only that it is done.

    There's nothing "landmark" about it. The law has always been there and it's always been referred to whenever the public gets up in arms about needing new laws to deal with the Internet.

    And for the record, I am Australian.

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    • icon
      MrTroy (profile), 22 Jun 2016 @ 8:19pm

      Re:

      So if this person had walked up to another person and said the same thing, would it just be "trolling", or would it be more serious?

      Why does the law mention venue at all? And why doesn't it define "serious offense"? I stand by my declaration that this law is the equivalent to an "on the internet" patent, and is about as useful to polite society.

      I do concede the point that this law's existence is a useful foil to people asking for more bad internet-related laws, but it's akin to saying that we don't need a bear to patrol our home, because a mountain lion is already doing the job.

      I'm also Australian, but I don't think that a law has to apply to you before you're qualified to comment on its quality, particularly since this law contains exactly zero cultural nuance.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 23 Jun 2016 @ 1:55am

      Re:

      "So if this person had called a person or organisation and said the same thing, would it just be "trolling", or would it be more serious?"

      It would be more serious, because there would be a deliberate attempt to attack a specific target. He made numerous comments, so by that analogy he would be calling the same person repeatedly to make the comments, which would indeed be serious harassment.

      This guy apparently just made comments on publicly visible threads to get a reaction. It's more analogous to shouting offensive comments from across a public park at people who wander through. Not forgivable, but rather a different situation to a targeted attack as with a telephone.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DocGerbil100 (profile), 22 Jun 2016 @ 9:04pm

    Hello, Mr Masnick. :)

    After doing a bit of research, I think this article might need a little revision. You've discussed §474.14 as the offence, but looking through the link you gave, it seems that §474.17 is actually the one Alchin was prosecuted under. Perhaps someone's made a mistake, or there's a numbering mismatch between different versions of the legal code.
    474.17 Using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence
    (1) A person commits an offence if:
    (a) the person uses a carriage service; and
    (b) the person does so in a way (whether by the method of use or the content of a communication, or both) that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, menacing, harassing or offensive.
    It's still quite vague, but not as totally incomprehensible as the article suggests. Alchin's conduct seems openly intended to hit all three of the "menacing, harassing or offensive" buttons, which is presumably why the police and courts were happy to give it house room. Other, less abusively-targeted instances of trolling would seem far less likely to trigger police involvement.

    The three year sentence is - I think - the maximum federal sentence, not what Alchin's likely to get. I know Ken the Popehat Guy gets annoyed about that sort of reporting, so I thought it was worth a mention. From my cursory research, it also seems that different states in Australia have different sentencing guidelines. Now that Alchin's pleaded guilty, I suspect he'll get a few months at most.

    Even if it is a big sentence, I can't pretend I think he doesn't deserve it. If I saw someone behaving this way in real life - approaching a group of women and girls and proceeding to make appalling comments and veiled threats of violence and rape - I'd call the police, at minimum. Moreover, I hope I'd have enough strength of character to beat the living shit out of him with the nearest convenient blunt instrument while I was waiting.

    Fuck this guy's freedom of speech: there are words and then there are Fighting Words.
    "It's different because it's on a computer" isn't an excuse any of us gets to use - especially not here.

    In Alchin's specific case, it's hard to see what counterspeech would deter his behaviour. He has no debate or point of view, as such. By his own admission, he's just someone who finds gratification in abusing and frightening women online. Given the language used, I suspect he was typing with one hand and masturbating with the other. Even the maximum sentence might have no effect on him, once he gets back out.

    Mr Masnick, exactly what words do you think would change the behaviour of someone like that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 23 Jun 2016 @ 5:46am

      Re:

      "I see you've been making horrifically abusive comments to women on Facebook. As your employer I have come under pressure from our clients and potential clients to address this. Your position is becoming untenable, Zane. I'd appreciate it if you would consider resigning. Failing that, consider this a verbal warning. Don't do it again."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2016 @ 10:23am

      Re:

      I was going to type a lengthy response but you summed up my thoughts perfectly. His words would definitely constitute aggressive harassment in the 'real' world and the threat implied therein isn't negated because he's typing them from behind a screen.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 23 Jun 2016 @ 10:25am

      Re:

      In Alchin's specific case, it's hard to see what counterspeech would deter his behaviour. He has no debate or point of view, as such. By his own admission, he's just someone who finds gratification in abusing and frightening women online. Given the language used, I suspect he was typing with one hand and masturbating with the other. Even the maximum sentence might have no effect on him, once he gets back out.

      The counter speech is pretty obvious: spread the word of what he said, and let the rest take over. His reputation is harmed and that should be punishment enough.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2016 @ 11:44pm

    Well... generally, I'm with Techdirt regarding free expressions and slippery slopes. But with threats, it get's difficult. And in the end there are, quite regularly, people who cannot tell for sure which of all the threats they receive are just hyperbole and if one of the hundred guys who threatened them directly or told them something terrible should happen to them will actually act upon what they wrote. Those threats, regardless of how many of them are empty, in total ruin lives and I can't find a good reason to protect them. Because "you must not directly threaten or explicitly wish bodily harm to another person on the internet" is clearly defined, and while occasionally funny, generally not an important point in the discussion. We have actual harm, massive personal actual harm of innocents on one side, and woodchipper jokes on the other. Should we really tell people, mostly women, who fear for their safety and their families safety that they have to endure it because we cannot take the jokes away?

    I am aware, that it's a difficult subject and we probably won't see a nuanced or narrow law from any legislation on this planet, but wouldn't it be great if we did?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      MrTroy (profile), 23 Jun 2016 @ 12:02am

      Re:

      Those threats, regardless of how many of them are empty, in total ruin lives and I can't find a good reason to protect them.

      Granted that we're talking about Australia here and not America, so protected speech isn't even a thing... on the internet, how can you tell that a threat is empty? Does that imply that all threats on the internet should be prosecuted as if they were real and imminent? What if the person^H^H^H^H^H^Hdickhead posting the threat lives in another city? Another country?

      And if it's the totality of the threats that causes harm, where none of them is actionable by itself... then how do you possibly handle that within the scope of the law? Every poster has to spend their share of the 3 year total jail term in jail*?

      I am aware, that it's a difficult subject and we probably won't see a nuanced or narrow law from any legislation on this planet, but wouldn't it be great if we did?

      Actually, I don't believe it would even be good. It has been shown uncountable times through history that it is nearly impossible to change society through enacting laws, so it really doesn't matter how well written the law is - it won't fix society. It could *possibly* fix the problem if you manage to incarcerate the entire population of potential offenders, but that really just swaps in a whole different problem.

      If you want to change society, you have to change society. There are no shortcuts or ways around dealing with the root of this problem. If you want to live in a society in which it is unacceptable to treat women (or anyone) in this way, then make it unacceptable.


      * - That would actually be pretty funny.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        G Thompson (profile), 23 Jun 2016 @ 2:38am

        Re: Re:

        > it is nearly impossible to change society through enacting laws
        I can give you NUMEROUS Australian laws that have totally changed the way society thinks and acts.

        * Wearing of seat belts in vehicles
        * Owning of firearms
        * Prostitution (legal in most states of Australia)

        These were all laws that were created, or changed (in case of last) that have totally changed the way in which society acts, and thinks regarding different social aspects.

        I agree with the idea that "There are no shortcuts or ways around dealing with the root of this problem" in this instance especially in regards to people treating one class of humans different than another, (race, gender, socioeconomic, religion, whatever) but.. sometimes laws that are enacted properly with logic and without the political bullshit rhetoric by those with underlying agenda's can succeed. maybe not in the USA for a while to come but in other places yes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2016 @ 12:54am

    Got to agree- if people say and do things that would get them locked up if they did it in person (telling a woman they are going to rape her) then just because you do it on the internet should make no difference.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    G Thompson (profile), 23 Jun 2016 @ 2:26am

    Mike,
    I cannot comment specifically on this case though I'd like to give some info regarding what a Serious Offence actually is.

    A serious offense, under the Commonwealth Criminal code (which is only used in part of this specific case since telecommunications is a federal matter) is defined as ANY offence that has on conviction by imprisonment a period of 3 years or more.

    This encompasses a wide range of offences from theft to murder and everything in between. [ see http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/ca191482/s15ge.html ]

    In other words it is mostly all our indictable offences (ones that are not summarily dealt with in a lower court - similar to what a misdemeanor is in the USA).

    Also there is no way the sentence would now be the max of 3yrs (or whatever the actual charges PLUS the charge of 474.14 is) since a pleading of guilty instantly wipes of 25% of any max sentence period before a sentencing hearing even begins.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2016 @ 5:34am

    And here we go again, taking the internet seriously. I swear this new generation of internet users (young & old alike) is too easily offended.
    The guy made an ass of himself on Facebook. Using his real name to boot. I mean what more can one ask for ?
    PSA: If you like to troll and be trolled, reddit & 4chan are the places to go. Also don't try too hard or you'll troll yourself out of the board.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Don't Tread on Us, 29 Jun 2016 @ 10:33am

    Trolling

    ..the idea that he's now facing three years in jail for what amounts to criminal "trolling" seems extreme and extremely problematic..

    And.. Sadistic.

    Trolling is just a way of phishing for someone who wants to take up the rant and bantor. Maybe rude and obnoxious, but unless trolls make explicit threats against specific persons, they certainly should not be facing such a SADIST'S RULING (3 Years in Prison.) The internet would be a lot lonlier without us!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      He's No Troll, 29 Jun 2016 @ 10:58am

      Re: Trolling

      If he told a person on the internet he was going to rape her, that is not trolling. He's threatened her specifically and deserves whatever he gets. He's a GOBLIN (They're Far Worse.)

      He is giving us trolls a bad name and akin to the way they (law) work is they lump us all together and make a bad law that makes it bad for everyone.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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