Crown Prosecution Service issues guidance on online harassment

Internet trolls who whip up “virtual mobs” to target people or post humiliating “photoshopped” images of them online could face jail under new guidance issued by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The CPS has made it clear that it is an offence to encourage people to target someone online because they disagree with them. It says that people who create derogatory hashtags on Twitter or encourage people to repeat “grossly offensive” messages should face prosecution.

The guidance warns that sharing people’s phone numbers and email address online so they can be targeted, a practice known as “doxing”, is a criminal offence.

The guidance says that prosecutors should be prepared to take action against “baiting”, which involves humiliating someone online by claiming they are sexually promiscuous.

The CPS’s social media guidelines also cover attacks on disabled people, violence against women and girls, and racial and religious, homophobic and transphobic hate crime. 

Perpetrators who participate in or initiate hate campaigns may be charged with encouraging an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007, the new guidelines suggest.

“Social media can be used to educate, entertain and enlighten but there are also people who use it to bully, intimidate and harass,” Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, said. “Ignorance is not a defence and perceived anonymity is not an escape. Those who commit these acts, or encourage others to do the same, can and will be prosecuted.”

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