New law could see online abuse punished with seven years in prison

New law could see online abuse punished with seven years in prison

Jackie Fox, whose daughter Nicole Fox Fenlon, took her own life following a period of sustained online abuse in 2018. A #letsbringincocoslaw petition calling on TDs to pass legislation around online abuse was presented to Labour TD, Brendan Howlin this afternoon at Leinster House. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

A petition calling on TDs to introduce a law which would make online abuse a criminal offence has been handed into the Dáil this afternoon.

The 'Coco's law' petition aims to address the issues of online abuse, cyberbullying and revenge porn. 

It is named after a young woman, 21-year-old Nicole Fox Fenlon, who died by suicide following a prolonged period of online abuse in 2018.

Since her daughter's death, Nicole's mother Jackie Fox has campaigned for stricter punishment measures for online abuse. 

Ms Fox is hoping that the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill, which was drafted by Labour Justice spokesperson Brendan Howlin, will get the necessary backing from TDs when it passes through Leinster House tomorrow.

Speaking on Newstalk radio this afternoon, Ms Fox explained some of the specifics of what the bill calls for.

She said: “They’re going to make online bullying a criminal offence, where you could get up to seven years where it causes someone to take their own life.

"There’s a fine of €2500, and the bill will also involve revenge porn."

Jackie Fox, holding a picture of her daughter, Nicole Fox Fenlon at the presentation of her online abuse petition earlier today. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Jackie Fox, holding a picture of her daughter, Nicole Fox Fenlon at the presentation of her online abuse petition earlier today. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The proposed law would urge social media companies to co-operate with investigations into cyber-bullying.

The Bill would see the legal definition of 'communication' updated to include electronic communication, both written and spoken. 

It would therefore encompass messaging on apps like WhatsApp and iMessage, as well as social media posts on the likes of Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.

In a statement today, Brendan Howlin said the current laws around online abuse were outdated.

He said: “The last time we updated these types of laws was when texting came in 30 years ago.

The whole online world has exploded and we as a country did nothing to police it.

“I first introduced this Bill more than three years and unfortunately we did not make the progress we wanted with the previous Minister for Justice. 

"When I reintroduce the Bill tomorrow, as it has been adapted by the Government, it will go directly into Committee.

Mr Howlin said he has received assurance that Justice Minister Helen McEntee will lend her support to the bill.

“I was moved to hear the heart-breaking testimony from the parents of three young women who took their own lives because of persistent online harassment. 

"The Government need to act now to protect victims of online harassment and ensure that this Bill becomes law before Christmas," Mr Howlin added.

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