HARSHER laws are needed to protect victims of online and social media-based abuse, a report by the Law Commission has claimed.
The study, commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), found a ‘lack of coherence’ in the current criminal law as it fails to keep pace with a rapidly-changing digital world.
Particular concerns are raised about the adequacy of existing laws in addressing behaviour such as ‘pile on’ harassment, or campaigns of harassment by a group.
The report highlights one victim receiving repetitive, abusive messages, who said: ‘Maybe one-off it doesn't matter, but when you have 500 coming into your inbox, 500 people saying it, maybe you don't think that.’
Current harassment offences are mostly targeted at repetitive conduct by one person against another person or group - but multiple people committing single acts of abuse against a person could also constitute harassment, the report says.
It notes: ‘In practice, it appears that the criminal law is having little effect in punishing and deterring certain forms of group abuse.’
Questions are also raised over the ability of the law to deal with victims who find their private sexual images and other personal information widely spread online.
And the study found that not all harmful online conduct is pursued by law enforcement to the same extent as it might be in an offline context.