Hate crimes on social media face harsher punishment

Image attribution: Eirik Solheim

As of this month the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will use its new guidance to decide on whether a range of hate crimes on social media (such as trolling) will lead to prosecution.

This new social media guidance will help prosecutors make clear that those who encourage others to participate in online harassment campaigns – known as ‘virtual mobbing’ – can face charges of encouraging an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007.

What behaviour could be considered a crime?

Examples of potentially criminal behaviour include making available personal information, for example a home address or bank details – a practice known as “doxxing” – or creating a derogatory hashtag to encourage harassment of victims.

The social media guidance, which is informed by a public consultation and signed off by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Alison Saunders, also includes new sections on Violence against Women and Girls (VaWG), Hate Crime and vulnerable victims.

The DPP said: “Social media can be used to educate, entertain and enlighten but there are also people who use it to bully, intimidate and harass.

“Ignorance is not a defence and perceived anonymity is not an escape. Those who commit these acts, or encourage others to do the same, can and will be prosecuted.”

The new guidance also alerts prosecutors to cyber-enabled VaWG and hate crime offences. These can include ‘baiting’, the practice of humiliating a person online by labelling them as sexually promiscuous or posting ‘photoshopped’ images of people on social media platforms.

What does guidance say about sexting?

The guidance provides information for prosecutors considering cases of ‘sexting’ that involve images taken of under-18-year-olds. It advises that it would not usually be in the public interest to prosecute the consensual sharing of an image between two children of a similar age in a relationship.

A prosecution may be appropriate in other scenarios, however, such as those involving exploitation, grooming or bullying.

What do you need to know as a parent

It is important to make your child aware of the consequences of their actions online particurlarly how they deal with cyberbullying. We’ve got some great tips in our cyberbullying section on what practical steps you can take to protect your child.

Additional information

Visit our cyberbullying pages to learn how you can prepare your child to deal with cyberbullying should it happen to them.

Image attribution: Eirik Solheim

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