Why internet trolls could face criminal charges in the UK for fake online profiles

Internet trolls who set up fake profiles in the name of their victims to post damaging or embarrassing material can face criminal charges, new advice for UK prosecutors says.

Social media guidelines are being updated by the Crown Prosecution Service to cover cases where offenders create false online accounts and websites.

The CPS said: “For example, it may be a criminal offence if a profile is created under the name of the victim with fake information uploaded which, if believed, could damage their reputation and humiliate them.

(Chris Ison/PA)


“In some cases the information could then be shared in such a way that it appears as though the victim has themselves made the statements.”

Such conduct could amount to an offence such as grossly offensive communication or harassment.

Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said: “Offenders can mistakenly think that by using false online profiles and creating websites under a false name their offences are untraceable.

“Thankfully this is not the case and an online footprint will be left by the offender.”

The Twitter logo reflected in glasses on a laptop keyboard
(Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook have facilities in place to report impersonation accounts.

Twitter’s help centre says impersonation is a violation of its rules, adding that accounts portraying another person “in a confusing or deceptive manner” may be permanently suspended.

Parody, commentary, or fan accounts are allowed on the microblogging site.

Facebook’s help centre says “impostor accounts” are not allowed.

The CPS is today launching a six-week public consultation on proposed revisions to the guidelines, which will also be updated to incorporate two new offences created since they were published in 2012.

Revenge pornography, which is predominantly carried out online, was the subject of a new law introduced last April.

Legislation rolled out in December created the offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour” in intimate or family relationships.

It means domestic abusers who control their victims through social media accounts or spy on them online could face up to five years in prison.

(Adam Peck/PA)

Saunders said: “Online communication is developing at such a fast pace, new ways of targeting and abusing individuals online are constantly emerging.

“We are seeing more and more cases where social media is being used as a method to facilitate both existing and new offences.

“It is vital that prosecutors consider the bigger picture when looking at evidence and examine both the online and offline behaviour pattern of the defendant. Online abuse is cowardly and can be deeply upsetting to the victim.

“Worryingly we have seen an increase in the use of cyber-enabled crime in cases related to violence against women and girls, including domestic abuse.”

 

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