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New Laws to Target Online Bullies

Posted on the 13 June 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
New laws to target online bullying

Does the Defamation Bill spell the end for the troll? photo: 8one6

The background

Website operators may be compelled to release the identities of anyone posting defamatory comments, under proposed new law introduced in the Defamation Bill.

The announcement by UK Justice Secretary Ken Clarke comes in the wake of several high-profile cases of online bullying, popularly known as ‘trolling’. Nicola Brookes won a court order in June 2012 to force Facebook to reveal the identities of users who had falsely branded her a paedophile. And Frank Zimmerman received a 26-week suspended sentence the same month for sending threatening emails to Conservative MP Louise Mensch.

So do the proposals mean the end of the troll?

Trolling is a misused term

“Trolling, according to the classic definition that emerged over years of online vernacular, is essentially the act of a wind-up: it should be funny,” said James Ball at The Guardian’s Comment is Free. But the term has now become a media “catch-all” to mean online bullying and harassment: “The term has been misappropriated to the point of being just another bland synonym – just like most of the marketing speak that infests most of modern English.”

Mensch case a ‘service’ to female writers

“In tackling the troll head-on, Mensch has done a service not just to every woman writing and speaking in public today, but to the next generation of female opinion-makers,” wrote Laurie Penny in The Independent. Penny said that she had also been the victim of internet trolling, including threats to her family, and that legal cases like Zimmerman’s were important: “It’s time to take the haters to task.”

Louise Mensch: We need an online cultural shift

“Too often people have believed that the internet is a magical, protected space where nothing they do can be policed,” wrote Louise Mensch in The Telegraph. The proposed laws should help to change this: “Ultimately, the internet is just another form of communication; once that is accepted, including by service providers and social media, trolling will lessen… As victims repeatedly fight back, we can hope to see a culture shift.”

Defamation Bill is just government spin

The media has fallen for the government line that the new Defamation Bill will end trolling, said Donal Blaney in The Daily Mail; unfortunately, this simply isn’t true. The Bill will only cover defamation: “It will not cover comments that are offensive, unpleasant or constitute harassment, breach of confidence or an invasion of privacy – and the bulk of trolls’ comments are in those categories as opposed to being defamatory as such,” Blaney pointed out.

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