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New legislation needed to stop online "trolls"

The report published today looks at the need for regulation specific to online harassment.

Image: cyberbullying via shutterstock

THE LAW REFORM Commission has today published a paper that aims to tackle the issue of online harassment by “trolls”.

In the paper, a number of issues relating to online bullying and anonymous posting are raised – and the adequacy of the current legislation is questioned.

At the moment, the law requires sustained harassment for a offence to be committed online, while one-off incidents are not considered in the same way.

The paper questions the current legislation that is in place, and whether it is sufficient to deal with the new challenges posed by online abuse, particularly in relation to hate speech.

It is asked whether there should be a new legislation for instances where:

  • There is a serious interference with privacy.
  • Content that goes online has the potential to cause serious harm due to its international reach and permanence.
  • There is no sufficient public interest in publication online. 
  • The accused intentionally or recklessly caused harm.

As the law stands 

At the moment the law deals with online offences through legislation designed to deal with general circumstances.

Online bullying is considered under the Non-fatal Offences Against the Persons Act 1997, which makes harassment – also commonly referred to as ‘stalking’ – an offence.

In the issues paper it is suggested that updates to the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 could be updated in line with suggestions from the EU Commission.

Such a change would bring Ireland into line with the 2008 EU Framework Decision on combating xenophobia and racism.

The paper

The ‘Issues Paper on Cyber-crime Affecting Personal Safety, Privacy and Reputation, including Cyber-bullying’ is being published as part of the Commission’s Fourth Programme of Law Reform. 

In it, the issue of dealing with how civil law remedies problems that comes from websites located outside of the state are also considered.

Law reform 

Speaking on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show, Raymond Byrne, the Director of Research at the Law Reform Comission, said:

We happen to have a lot of the big social media companies here in Dublin. We have the opportunity to do something here that is a good guide for other countries as well.

Byrne went on to point out that penalties for offences in Ireland were more severe than elsewhere.

“The harassment offence carries up to seven years imprisonment so that is pretty tough in terms of a sentencing. Most of the sentences we’ve had here in terms of malicious telephone calls – they are already higher than the comparison in England – where the maximum is six months at the moment. They are putting that up to two years. We are already way beyond that here in Ireland,” said Byrne.

Read: New CEO of Ask.fm commits to making the site safer for users

Also: Labour Senator deletes Facebook page after being told she ‘should have been aborted’

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