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Maximum sentence for internet trolls raised to 2 years in the UK

Proposed legislation now in effect, quadruples the previous maximum sentence

Perpetrators of online abuse will now face tougher sentencing thanks to new legislation passed in the UK.

From the perspective of the games industry, the most relevant change in the Criminal Justice and Court Act is the increase in the maximum sentence for sending a message or items, "with the intention of causing distress or anxiety," or, "which convey an indecent or grossly offensive message or are themselves of an indecent or grossly offensive nature."

Anyone found guilty of the above will now face a maximum sentence of two years, rather than six months. The change was proposed in October last year, and came into effect yesterday.

"This is a law to combat cruelty, and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob," Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said at the time. "We must send out a clear message: if you troll you risk being behind bars for two years."

Exactly how effective a deterrent this will be in combating abuse and threats remains to be seen. Internet communities are generally composed of people from many countries and cultures, and this new sentencing will only apply to those in the UK.

Thanks to The Telegraph.

Latest comments (34)

Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend4 years ago
I have to say this is a stupid ruling. I get that you have to curb people trolling others online, but when your sentence for 'trolling' carries more prison time (UK) than actually going out and punching someone in the face I think we have lost perspective a little.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development4 years ago
I'd agree except for one thing. If you punch someone in the face you will actually get prosecuted over it, whereas this is just a sound bite item.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend4 years ago
Funnily enough I have just had this discussion with my designer and I know most of it is the fear factor and is going to be really difficult to pin this down. But as for being punched in the face and prosecution of assailant; in my experience this is also hard to pin down especially if you don't know who the hell punched you in the first place. :D

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 14th April 2015 1:20pm

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Show all comments (34)
Fazi Zsolt Game & Level Designer @Atypical Games 4 years ago
If you spend most of your time in a virtual life (online social etc.), when a bunch of trolls gang up on you (over your account pic, a stupid comment, anything at all) than it will leave you feeling just as getting punched in the face.
Trolling can become a serious problem when the one trolled is a sensitive person, who can become emotionally distressed and thus react to an online post just like it would react to a real life threat (bar fight, sucker punch..). Also everyone knows, there is no way to fight an army of trolls, when the flood gates open, they are wide open and anything goes, trolls have no limit. But this I think is also related to the fact that people start to live more through the internet than ever before. Everything is getting so intertwined that virtual affects real and vice versa.

Of course putting people in jail won't solve this. Better sentence them to community service, make them feel ashamed for their behavior, not through them in a box with hardened criminals. I see a lot of potential for abusing this law, it is so vaguely formulated, that anyone can become a troll based on ones subjective interpretation.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend4 years ago
I get where you are coming from Fazi and you make some valid points, but I have to disagree that being trolled online is the same as being in a street fight, not by any stretch of the imagination IMO.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 14th April 2015 4:35pm

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Keldon Alleyne Strategic Keyboard Basher, Avasopht Development4 years ago
Trolling is destructive pathological narcissistic behaviour that is without a don't a social pariah.

Prevention would be better, but it is behaviour deserving of punishment whether we are able to empathise with victims of trolling or not. They intend to cause emotional harm, distress and negative emotion so I welcome punishment though I'd rather see more easily intervention in the form of more behavioural development.
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Jonathan Cooper Animator, Naughty Dog4 years ago
Having been on the receiving end of quite a few face punches in my formative years I can attest that it's something you will recover from quickly, (and to be honest, a short sharp shock can be a good thing sometimes). Systematic persecution, personal threats and intimidation however, (which I'd expect would warrant the maximum sentence), can be psychologically damaging in an ongoing campaign. I'd argue this is a good start, but still isn't enough. Not to mention comparing different sentences' perceived "value" to the crime is a rabbit hole that extends fat beyond internet hate crimes.
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Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee4 years ago
when your sentence for 'trolling' carries more prison time (UK) than actually going out and punching someone in the face I think we have lost perspective a little.
I Disagree.

2 years is a maximum sentence under this law and includes acts such as revenge porn. Debate whether or not that carries an equal or worse implication than punching someone.

The potential punishment/prison time is always scalable based on the crime.
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Sam Twidale Studying Computer Systems and Software Engineering, University of York4 years ago
What would you propose since you say it isn't enough?

Online harasser and threateners often have a sense of security that comes from perceived or sometimes real-enough anonymity, so I don't think "if you're caught..." deterrents can ever work very well.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 4 years ago
Criminal Justice and Court Act is the increase in the maximum sentence for sending a message or items, "with the intention of causing distress or anxiety," or, "which convey an indecent or grossly offensive message or are themselves of an indecent or grossly offensive nature."
Does this also cover death and rape threats that people send out online? If so I would have expected the penalty to have been longer.
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises4 years ago
Good, lock up all of your nation's 13 year olds and annoying adults. Or send them down to Australia to do their time, wait that's not a deterrent anymore...
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany4 years ago
I guess they will treat each case depending on the kind of trolling. One think is somebody telling you "lol U n00b you suck at this game", which pretty much is trying to make fun of you, and a completely different one is somebody calling you "F***ing Nazi" when they see that you play from Germany, this last one is obviously aiming at offending and hurting you, and I believe it should be punished.
Now, two years in prison is something that I hope won't happen to anything under death/rape/beat up threats including the address of the person (aka, trying to cause terror), but it will be good if it manage to send the message that if you are a coward that insult through the anonymity if the internet, you must know that such anonymity no longer makes you immune.

@Paul: If proven true, yes; it should be more time. But you need to proof that there was a real intention behind the words. If the intention was "only" to spread terror, two years in the shadow is enough (I'm sure the coward throwing that poison won't do it again once he/she gets out)
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Alex Bunch Proof Reader, ZiCorp Studios4 years ago
Not to defend trolls and trolling for one moment but I do wonder what on earth is happening to society. Does no one have any back bone anymore or just plain 'balls'? How far is stomping out causing offence going to go? The tweet from the women's group about maybe using jazz hands instead of clapping so as not to worry those with anxiety being the latest ludicrous step.
When will saying 'BOO!' be a punishable offence?
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend4 years ago
One of the main problems I think is perspective. Words in themselves have no power, only those who read them can give power to those words. Us humans are wired to identify threats and in the absence of real threats we enhance things that may normally seem trivial. Hence the saying "first world problems".

Now I am not trying to diminish the pain words can bring some people and we need to address this, but we have to keep perspective in mind about how we deal with it. I fall more towards the "name and shame" category when it comes to punishment rather than a custodial sentence. Use their own tools against them.

Of course, there are laws already in place to deal with death threats and other offenses that could actually result in bodily harm or death.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 15th April 2015 10:10am

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Jamie Firth Video Games Production 4 years ago
I don't think we've done ourselves any favours by allowing "Trolling" to become a catch-all term. "Trolling" for me is something that is intentionally provoking. Like Katie Hopkins or people in the GI comments threads.
I think what they are talking about here is more about "Malicious Communications", which can include death/rape threats, hate crime, obscene content, most of which carry much greater penalties if they were done in person, by post or by telephone (death threats, for example, already carry up to a 10 year custodial sentence).
Death threats/hate crimes are not "trolling".
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend4 years ago
Death threats/hate crimes are not "trolling".
Indeed.
"with the intention of causing distress or anxiety," or, "which convey an indecent or grossly offensive message or are themselves of an indecent or grossly offensive nature."
That example is trolling and whilst bad, doesn't really warrant a prison term IMO, whereas death threats should and do (if proven to be a real premeditated course of action by the person using the threats).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 15th April 2015 10:16am

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Jamie Firth Video Games Production 4 years ago
I don't see that as trolling - It's harassment in my book, which we all understand is illegal already. I just think that calling it "trolling" is opening it up to people thinking that these changes are overly draconian.
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Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee4 years ago
If you look at most news sites that have reported on this law previously, they mainly target issues such as 'revenge porn' as the headline crime, as opposed to 'trolling'.

I guess in a video games context, that isn't as relevent and perhaps why there's an emphasis on trolling here, though it does make the law look overly dramatic.

Ultimately, this was mainly a reaction to the thousands of people who have suffered these more serious crimes and not just annoying people on forums or twitter.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up4 years ago
Just as well the guy singing (lets call it offline trolling) at david cameron the other day never sent it as an audio file in a tweet!

I've no doubt this will be used in ways we've not yet imagined. Much like the terrorism bill.
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Jamie Firth Video Games Production 4 years ago
There would have been no legal difference between what that guy did in person and if he had tweeted it?
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Jamie Firth Video Games Production 4 years ago
But how many people are actually being prosecuted under this law? I've never heard of even one.
There's been a few: some examples here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-29686865 and the Caroline Criado-Perez case where two people (I believe) went to jail.
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer 4 years ago
Also everyone knows, there is no way to fight an army of trolls
Uh, closing your browser?
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up4 years ago
@Jamie Not sure if you're allowed to sing at some one or not, in a derogatory manner. I would have thought you were. It was reported by the news channels to an online audience, so I'm not sure if that means that the singer is in the clear, but the reporting organisations would be implicated instead. Obviously I'm against people being abusive, but equally disappointed that were heading towards a more litigious society because of a few.
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Jamie Firth Video Games Production 4 years ago
It's up to a jury to decide whether something was genuinely threatening.
Which, on some of these examples, is pretty cut and dry.
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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios4 years ago
Also everyone knows, there is no way to fight an army of trolls
Uh, closing your browser?
Way to dismiss coordinated online harassment as trivial. I guess you can also defeat libel by not reading it, and slander by putting your fingers in your ears. In fact, the aforementioned punch in the face would be easily avoided, all you have to do is duck.
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer 4 years ago
Way to dismiss coordinated online harassment as trivial. I guess you can also defeat libel by not reading it, and slander by putting your fingers in your ears.
Both of which can and should be dealt with in other ways than just reading them all and arguing with people on places like twitter. Ever heard of the old adage "don't feed the trolls"? Replying to them is exactly what they want and can often make the problem worse by giving them attention.

If you're being harassed the best thing to do is report and block them and then remove yourself from the situation. Sticking around and arguing with nobodies on the internet has never made any situation better.
In fact, the aforementioned punch in the face would be easily avoided, all you have to do is duck.
Yes, but the person punching you is still there. If you want to completely avoid any further punches you should just leave.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Watson on 17th April 2015 10:56am

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Oh, so the solution to online trolls is that simple: just shut up, press the report button(and hope that support cares, which they generally don't) and get off the Internet, right? Goodness, what useful advice. If only all these foolish people complaining about death threats and doxxing would listen to paragons of rationality like yourself, we'd have been spared the last nine months of harassment!

If you have nothing but pointless victim-blaming soundbites like 'don't feed the trolls!' and 'just close your browser!' to contribute Andrew, may I suggest that you take your own advice and close your browser.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Jessica Hyland on 17th April 2015 11:35am

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.4 years ago
Andrew, so it's better to remove yourself from the environment than to remove the toxicity from the environment? Because ignoring the problem always solves the problem, right?
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer 4 years ago
Oh, so the solution to online trolls is that simple: just shut up, press the report button(and hope that support cares, which they generally don't) and get off the Internet, right? Goodness, what useful advice. If only all these foolish people complaining about death threats and doxxing would listen to paragons of rationality like yourself, we'd have been spared the last nine months of harassment!
so it's better to remove yourself from the environment than to remove the toxicity from the environment? Because ignoring the problem always solves the problem, right?
Since trying to eliminate trolling has been shown to be fruitless time and time again, yes, I believe the best thing to do is be proactive about it to make yourself a smaller (and less rewarding) target. If you really want to "get back" at them, then that's why there are things like the law this article's about -- if you're getting death threats, report them to the authorities. The point I'm trying to make is that doing things like screencapping posts and then making snarky responses on twitter always makes things worse.

How do you propose to "fight" an anonymous mob that thrives on riling people up?
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How do you propose to "fight" an anonymous mob that thrives on riling people up?
Zero-tolerance abuse policies(that are actually enforced) in online spaces and empowering victims of harassment to remove abusers and apologists from their spaces rather than expecting victims themselves to leave or adjust. How on earth does making victims stay silent help stop the mob?
The point I'm trying to make is that doing things like screencapping posts and then making snarky responses on twitter always makes things worse.
If the only other option is to meekly shut up and never speak again because that'll only provoke them, then hell yes I am going to snark at harassers. Standing up for myself does not 'always' make it worse - snarking and ridiculing those who attempt to silence me makes me feel better about myself, my power and my worth. Your solution sucks.
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Matthew Bennett 3D Engine developer, Sitedesk4 years ago
I think this whole maximum sentence thing is a bit silly. But not for the reason that most people think. I think relying solely on prison sentences is too constrained and the punishment should fit the crime.

Perhaps instruct the offender to attend classes and work, unpaid/low paid at an anti-bulling charity for a year. Who knows, maybe in dealing with cases they aren't directly involved with will stir up some empathy in the offender?

@Jessica
I find Zero-tolerance policies work great up to and stopping at when they are abused by individuals with a particular political opinion, (See some of the drama surrounding wikipedia if you need some evidence) while I don't think that's good enough reason to not have these policies in the first place I think it's a bit of everyone's responsibility to keep things in check and make sure things don't start going crazy.

As for actual harassment, I agree that it doesn't always make things worse to engage with offenders and if you can turn it on them, great, it's you showing that you aren't affected by the acts of internet trolls, but I prefer not engaging with the offenders. I would much rather spend my time and energy engaging with the positive people in my social circles. If someone gets bad enough though (and I've only had to do this once) I cap, block and report and if it warrants it, contact the authorities. Yes, I don't directly attack the people who attack me, I don't give them the satisfaction while maintaining my business as usual attitude towards others and in public spaces.

This, I think, more than anything dis-empowers those who would act purely to be toxic in public as them (and those who would copy-cat them) see that they get zero satisfaction from targeting me.

Wow that was a long comment,
Have a good one :)

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Matthew Bennett on 17th April 2015 4:40pm

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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer 4 years ago
Zero-tolerance abuse policies(that are actually enforced) in online spaces and empowering victims of harassment to remove abusers and apologists from their spaces rather than expecting victims themselves to leave or adjust.
I just said they should use the report button. That's what it's there for. To report things. You've also got the block button. You dismissed my suggestion to use these buttons earlier but now you're suggesting the exact same thing?

Neither of these really solves the problem when people start creating multiple accounts. The only surefire way to stop contact altogether when you've got a whole mob of people coming at you is to remove yourself from the situation. No amount of "empowerment" is going to do anything during the harassment or to prevent it from happening in the first place.

If you want total control over what people can say you're not going to get it on an extremely public place like twitter. Knowing how to deal with all of the kinds of other people you'll encounter is crucial and if you can't handle that then you should do something like a private skype group instead. (the general "you", not you, Jessica, specifically)
How on earth does making victims stay silent help stop the mob?
By not feeding them what they want -- your attention. I literally just said this.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.4 years ago
Andrew, I've been a community director for over a decade. Simply reporting trolls and/or staying away from conversation altogether doesn't solve the problem. It's a stop gap band aid with minimal results. I'm not saying they aren't needed or aren't beneficial, just wholly ineffective as a complete solution.

If you focus solely on prevention from the victim side, you create an environment of empowerment for the trolls. Your problem is the trolls, not their victims.

I mean seriously, if you were going to have to inconvenience one group over the other, I'd rather impose them upon the trolls.
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Kevin Strange Developer Relations Account Manager, AMD4 years ago
Focus on the roots, educate and inspire. Kindness is THE most important human trait.

Besides technology will always outpace legislation
<drops his mic>
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