In a move aimed at clamping down on revenge pornography, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has released an update to their social media guidelines which are expected to be brought into force later this year. The guidelines are on tackling offenders who create false websites and online accounts such as on Facebook and Twitter to get revenge on others by posting indecent, grossly offensive or false information.
Under the new guidelines being proposed by the CPS, lawyers in England & Wales will be advised to prosecute trolls who could face serious charges including harassment, for setting up fake online profiles in the name of their victims to post damaging or embarrassing material such as messages, pictures or videos with a view to damaging the victims reputation and humiliate them, as well as in some more serious cases put the victim in danger.
There are more and more cases where social media is being used as a method to facilitate both existing and new offences. Fraudsters have also set up fake LinkedIn profiles, in an attempt to harvest the personal details of legitimate users.
Offenders can mistakenly think that by using fake online profiles and creating fake websites that their offences are untraceable; however this is not the case and an online footprint will be left by the offender.
Online communication is developing at such a fast pace, that new ways of targeting and abusing individuals online are constantly emerging and it seems that these updated guidelines are in order to keep on top of these developments in the social media world.
The CPS is advising its prosecutors to be prepared to charge under existing laws if a case falls into one of three categories:
- Category 1: when online activity results in a credible threat to an individual;
- Category 2: when someone is specifically targeted for harassment, stalking, so-called revenge porn or coercive behaviour to former partners or family members;
- Category 3: cases resulting in breaches of a court order.
However, the guidance also sets out less serious situations where prosecutions should be considered under a fourth category:
- Category 4: where a false identity is used to post upsetting messages, including false information that could cause anxiety.
Prosecutions for online activity could be brought under a number of laws, including the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, which created a new offence in April 2015 of revenge pornography to prosecute people who post sexual images of others online without permission. These guidelines seem to expand on the current offences in order to bring justice to victims who have been subject to online abuse by offenders creating fake profiles or websites and hiding behind their screens.