Britain is considering harsher punishments for online abuse.
The U.K.’s Justice Secretary Chris Graying told the The Daily Mail he will be introducing a proposal to quadruple the country’s current punishment for online abuse, from 6 months of jail to two years.
“These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life,” he said.
Currently, the Malicious Communications Act allows for the prosecution of users who are sexually offensive or verbally abusive, and there have already been a handful of cases. Law student Joshua Cryer was charged for a series of racist tweets at soccer player Stan Collymore. A pair of 20-year-olds were sent to jail for rape threats sent via Twitter.
But critics warn that it could chill free speech if applied inappropriately, such as when it was considered for a user who criticized an olympic diver. “[Y]ou let your dad down i hope you know that,” user @Rileyy_69 tweeted during the Olympics in 2012.
“There is a danger that people who have just been vigorous in their criticism of someone could be caught up in it and it will infringe freedom of speech,” said David Green, the director of the thinktank, Civitas.
Online abuse is a serious problem and tech companies aren’t waiting for a legal solution. Twitter has implemented measures for high profile users who are verified. After the daughter of Robin Williams was harassed online, Twitter vowed to introduce new policies to protect users. Verified users can filter replies by users who are also verified, and thus be less likely get harassed from the most vicious voices of the general public.
Readers can learn more about the proposed law here.
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