A few days after trolls threatened to rape British fitness instructor Chloe Madeley, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told the Mail on Sunday that sentences for web trolls would be quadrupled to two years in proposed changes to current law.
Grayling said that the illusion of anonymity enables trolls to get sadistic pleasure out of attacking others, operating as they do under the false idea that the attack is “not really real”, allowing them to strike in a “hit and run” style, often hidden behind the cover of a screen name.
They’re “cowards” who’ve “poisoned our national life”, he said.
More of what he told the newspaper:
No one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media. That is why we are determined to quadruple the current six-month sentence.
As the terrible case of Chloe Madeley showed last week, people are being abused online in the most crude and degrading fashion.
This is a law to combat cruelty – and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob. We must send out a clear message: if you troll you risk being behind bars for two years.
Trolls targeted Madeley after she defended statements made by her mother about a convicted rapist.
Her parents are TV celebrities Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan.
Finnigan had remarked that the footballer Ched Evans, who was released from prison last week after serving half of his five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman – should be allowed to get back to his career, given that the rape wasn’t violent and hadn’t caused “any bodily harm”.
Last week, Madeley shared some of the taunts and rape threats she’d received after defending her mother’s remarks:
chloe madeley @MadeleyChloe
And for my grand finale, let's move on to this...THIS IS WHY PAPERS SHOULD STOP QUOTING TROLLS, THEY ARE NOT SANE!
Madeley is only the most recent in a long string of troll victims to receive media attention.
In the US, game developer Brianna Wu was recently forced to leave her home after trolls threatened to rape, kill and mutilate her.
At the same time, gaming commenter Anita Sarkeesian for the third time took to the stage in spite of bomb threats.
Many incorrectly assume that in the US, the First Amendment protects harassing online speech, while in fact threats of violence directed at a person or group of persons that has the intent of placing the target at risk of bodily harm or death are generally unprotected.
In the UK, people who send sexually offensive, verbally abusive or threatening material online are now prosecuted under the Malicious Communications Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of six months.
Grayling’s intent to stiffen that penalty comes under the planned legislative overhaul of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which on Monday went into the report stage in the House of Lords.
The amended bill would only pertain to England and Wales.
Grayling announced earlier this month that the bill’s amendments include two years of jail time for those posting revenge porn.
Well, he’s certainly right about trolls getting sadistic pleasure out of tormenting people online.
In fact, Canadian researchers in the past year studied what makes trolls tick, and they came to that same conclusion: trolls just want to have fun.
In troll speak, of course, that fun is called “lulz”, which is a breezy term that makes their antics seem harmless.
In reality, though, those antics include not only starting flame wars, arguing and upsetting people for the hell of it. They also include threats of murder, rape, mutilation, bombings, and even, in the case of targeted blogger Brian Krebs and others, sending out SWAT teams to surround targets with law enforcement who have firearms pulled and ready to fire.
In response to comments on the Briannu Wu case, Naked Security’s Mark Stockley said recently that those who work with bullies find that the willingness to troll is related to a lack of empathy.
In fact, lack of empathy is just one facet of what the Canadian researchers found to be typical troll personalities, which have what scientists call the Dark Tetrad of noxious variables: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).
That doesn’t mean that all of us who engage in online arguments are psychopaths. But in its most extreme form, this personality profile can and does go to the extreme extent of seeking thrills by carrying out the criminal act of threatening harm.
If the threat of a 6-month prison sentence isn’t enough to undo that noxious personality knot, would a 2-year sentence do the trick?
It would be nice to think so, but given that those who make online threats really do seem to put their faith in the illusion of anonymity, I wonder if it’s a realistic expectation.
If they believe their cloak of invisibility is real, what difference does it make how much prison time they’re threatened with? It appears that trolls consider getting caught to be an irrelevant, abstract concept, regardless of how much penalty is attached to the possibility.