Britons who abuse a stranger online could soon face punishment under a new law in hopes of curbing rising cases of online abuse, according to officials.
That could include a longer jail sentence, broader monitoring of online social media accounts and public shaming of those responsible. The U.K. government is considering allowing officials to fine offenders in some extreme cases of alleged hate speech, the Sunday Times reported.
The new legislation is the latest response to mounting evidence that women are particularly vulnerable to online abuse, according to The Independent. Women constitute half of the country’s population and are increasingly turning to social media to connect with others, the outlet reported. But some find that their accounts are being targeted by individuals with hidden agendas.
“Online threats or cyber-bully behavior is not ‘banter’ or a bit of fun, it’s violence,” Katie Russell, manager of sex and relationship support for the National Domestic Violence Agency, told The Independent. “The new law will reduce the threat to prevent it escalating further.”
With that in mind, the British government is considering new laws that could better target abuse online. Under current British law, offenders can face up to three years in prison for civil and criminal acts that cause “psychological harm.”
Some cases of online abuse have led the government to require companies to identify accounts belonging to individuals who make threats and report them to the police. If the company can’t identify the individual, however, the government can conduct warrantless surveillance to analyze their data.
Britain’s most notorious online hate crime, the Metropolitan Police discovered, involved a series of thousands of women on social media being targeted with malevolent messages. At least one of the women said that men would send her pornographic images of themselves and threaten to rape her.
There are currently no specific punishments for online abusers in Britain. If the new laws are approved, they could be delayed for months as parliament decides who should be named and shamed, whether to target the abusers who used victims to advertise brands or perhaps to define the parameters of “terrorism” that would attract penalties under the legislation.
The British government proposed the legislation after the deaths of two victims of online abuse.
Last year, Loz Pyle, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, was killed by a gang of three teenage boys after she forwarded them messages about them sexually abusing teenage boys. Pyle had been struggling with mental health issues and wanted the teens prosecuted for the abuse, according to the Inquisitr.
Scotland Yard is now investigating the crimes of 18 people in connection with Pyle’s death.
In 2017, 14-year-old Heshima Dasani was stabbed to death in northwest London after she interrupted one of a group of online bullies taking photos of her on social media.
“We must always remember those we take for granted – children, young women, the elderly – who aren’t able to protect themselves,” Theresa May, the British prime minister, said in April, according to Sky News. “That’s why protecting them is so important and that’s why we are seeking new legislation to make online abuse a crime.”