British Justice Secretary Chris Grayling stated his intentions today to raise the criminal penalty for cyber trolling in the UK up to a maximum two year sentence, in an attempt to halt the spread of online abuse happening on social media and other sites.
The Malicious Communications Act, which was passed 10 years ago, allows for a maximum penalty of only six months against cyber trolls and other internet troublemakers. Under the law, cyber trolls are defined as "Those who subject others to sexually offensive, verbally abusive or threatening material online."
This includes harassment and stalking, but each broadly defined case is decided by a magistrate or, in severe cases as proposed under the new bill, a crown court -- which means that cyber trolling is open to subjective definition on a case-by-case basis.
Threatening or harassing tweets, Facebook messages, and email communications have previously been prosecuted under the law, but Grayling and others hope the extended maximum sentence will be a sufficient deterrence to discourage this behavior.
In an interview with UK tabloid Daily Mail, Grayling made his feelings on the issue of cyber trolling known.
These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life. No one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media. That is why we are determined to quadruple the current six-month sentence.
The UK is seen as unique by many countries in its approach to handling the internet, which has included prosecuting those who post hate speech and racism online, and blocking access to "extreme" content like violent pornography and sexualized images of minors.
The bill would additionally include an amendment to prosecute "revenge porn," which would extend a maximum two-year sentence of anyone posting private, sexual videos or photos of an ex on the internet.