Last month, the United Kingdom released guidelines that would criminalize fake social media accounts that are used by internet trolls to impersonate others and harass people online. People who use fake social media accounts to harass and libel people online could face criminal charges under the new social media policy that is being proposed by the Crown Prosecution Service.
According to the new social media proposal, anyone who posts or sends information through fake social media accounts for the purpose of attacking or stalking a person or group of people could face criminal prosecution. The new proposal also criminalizes the posting of revenge pornography online to harass and embarrass others.
The proposed social media rules cover four general areas:
- Threats of violence towards people or damage to property
- Any stalking, harassing, revenge porn, blackmail, coercion directed at specific people
- Activities that violate court orders or legal prohibitions
- Any online or offline communications that are deemed grossly offensive, obscene, indecent or false
In a statement from the United Kingdom’s Public Prosecutions division, they noted that there has been an increase in cyber harassment and stalking. The statement went on to say that people who operate as internet trolls may falsely believe that their online activities are untraceable; however, prosecutors can find the digital footprint that their activities leave behind.
In one high-profile case in the United Kingdom, a person set up fake Linkedin accounts for tricking other people into giving up their personal information, including email addresses, to launch a targeted phishing scam against the individuals.
Defending the new online rules, one UK official said that internet abuse is a cowardly act that can be terribly damaging and upsetting for the victims who are targeted and attacked online.
The Crown Prosecution Services admits that these new social media rules could have a chilling effect on free speech rights and they said that prosecutors will be expected to practice considerable caution before bringing any formal charges under the new rules. They further stated that prosecutors are expected to use a high legal threshold before prosecuting people under these new guidelines.
Although most social media companies like Facebook and Twitter prohibit the creation and use of fake and spam user accounts, it hasn’t stopped internet trolls from registering fake accounts using the names of other people and businesses.
For their part, Twitter has agreed to work with the Crown Prosecution Services to help educate investigators and prosecutors with the tech skills and procedures for handling these cases. Twitter has also agreed to shut down any social media accounts that run afoul of the new guidelines.
The United Kingdom’s cybercrime rules were first issued in 2012, but these social media rules regarding internet trolling and cyberbullying are the most recent addition to that policy.