INTERNET TROLLS WHO engage in ‘sinister’ forms of online abuse should be hit with harsher penalties, Labour TD Seán Kenny has said.
Kenny, who is a member of the Oireachtas Communications and Justice Committees, said that Ireland should follow in the footsteps of the UK, where politicians are considering introducing sentences of up to two years for trolls.
The TD stated that he didn’t have a problem with online messages intended as a “wind up”, but was concerned about trolling that can “cause huge amounts of mental stress for those who experience it”.
“Examples include sending an email threatening someone’s children, or stealing someone’s online identity and setting up accounts in their name on social networking sites in order to impersonate them.
Another element of this sinister form of trolling that particularly concerns me is the way trolls attack women online, insulting them for airing opinions or for work that they do online, often saying the most horrifying of things, and threatening them with physical harm such as rape or other physical assault, even murder in some cases.
Kenny said that the psychological trauma caused by this type of trolling can lead to suicide, noting that the Oireachtas Communications Committee examined the issue in the wake of the 2012 death of Junior Minister Shane McEntee.
The Deputy added that trolls were “cowards”.
What’s the likelihood of legislative change?
A spokesperson for the Department of Communications said that there are already a number of measures in place to deal with abusive online comments.
“The Defamation Act 2009 covers online comment in the same way as it does commentary offline. Similarly, Section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997 deals with harassment, and provides for a sentence of up to 7 years.
Importantly, while this Act deals with direct communications with someone, it does not deal with indirect communications or messages ‘about’ someone.
They also noted that abuse of the postal or telephone system is covered by the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Act 2007.
In late 2013, the then Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte set up the Internet Content Governance Advisory Group to report to him on a range of issues related to online content.
The group made a range of recommendations in June 2014, including that the Communications Regulation Act be amended to include ‘electronic communications’ deemed “grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing”.
An implementation group was set up by the Government in July and will report back by the end of the year.
At present, the Law Reform Commission is also reviewing a number of related issues, including cyber bullying and revenge porn – this may result in a recommendation for further legislative change.