Twitter bird sketch, flickr, creative comms licence, shawncampbell

Twitter, Flickr, creative comms, shawncampbell

Social media sites need to establish the identity of people using their sites, argued a House of Lords’ committee looking at ‘revenge porn’ and cyber bullying. The report, commissioned by the House of Lords’ committee on communications and published yesterday, called for a ‘more accessible route to judicial intervention’ as well as tougher sentences.

The committee, chaired by the cross bench peer Lord Best, considered how social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, had become a platform with a dangerous edge where misuse could lead to people being humiliated and distressed through ‘revenge porn’ and ‘trolling’ and other forms of online bullying.

The report defined ‘revenge porn’ as ‘usually following the breakup of a couple, the electronic publication or distribution of sexually explicit material (principally images) of one or both of the couple, the material having originally been provided consensually for private use’. It looked at how malicious use of files that feature someone’s ex, in order to humiliate or distress that ex or their family, needed to have tougher sentences attached to it.

That call came in the context of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, before the House at present, which proposes making the offence one that could be tried in the Crown Court, as well as magistrates’ court and increasing sentences to two years in the Crown Court as well as heavier fines. Currently, the offence is dealt with by magistrates with a maximum sentence of six months and a £5,000 fine.

Using the Internet to post ‘revenge porn’ can currently be tried under laws such as the Communications Act 2003, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, and the Malicious Communications Act 1988. However, the report suggested that a grey area remained. It stated that revenge pornography was ‘not directly considered in the Director of Public Prosecutions’ guidance for prosecutions involving social media communications’ and as such the report ‘welcomed clarification […] as to the circumstances in which an indecent communication could and should be subject to prosecution’ under the Acts already listed.

The report also considered the importance of accountability for crimes that may be lost through the anonymity social media platforms provide. ‘There is little point in criminalising certain behaviour and at the same time legitimately making that same behaviour impossible to detect,’ said the report. Instead of allowing criminals to use the anonymity of pseudonyms and false accounts on Facebook and Twitter, the committee suggested that they ‘consider that it would be proportionate to require the operators of websites first to establish the identity of people opening accounts but that it is also proportionate to allow people thereafter to use websites using pseudonyms or anonymously’.

Profile photo of Kirsty Woodford About Kirsty Woodford
Kirsty is a recent BA English graduate from UCL, currently studying for a law conversion course (GDL). She spends a lot of time volunteering within the local community, with a strong emphasis on social and legal work

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1 Comment

  • หนัง January 11, 2016 7:03 am

    Great article.

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