Convictions for crimes under a law used to prosecute internet trolls have increased eightfold in a decade, UK figures reveal.
Last year 1,209 people were found guilty of offences under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 — equivalent to three every day — compared with 143 in 2004.
It is a crime under the act to send “by means of a public electronic communications network” a message or other material that is “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character”.
Section 127 has come to prominence in recent years following a string of high-profile cases of trolling on social media sites. It can also cover phonecalls and emails, and cases of “persistent misuse” that cause the victim annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety.
Statistics released by the UK ministry of justice show that 1,501 defendants were prosecuted under the law last year — including 70 juveniles — while another 685 were cautioned.
Of those convicted, 155 were jailed — compared with just seven a decade before. The average custodial sentence was 2.2 months.
Compared with the previous year, there was an 18% increase in convictions under section 127 but the number has dipped since a peak in 2012, when there were 1,423.
In 2013, then-DPP Keir Starmer said users who post offensive material online must pass a “high threshold” before they are prosecuted.
The changes came in the wake of a case in which Paul Chambers was found guilty in May 2010 after joking on Twitter about blowing up Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire. His conviction was later overturned at the High Court.
Professor Lilian Edwards, director of the Centre for Internet Law and Policy at the University of Strathclyde said: “This was a relatively obscure provision before the internet. You would have been talking about poison telephone calls and there were relatively few of those It is obviously related to what has happened with social media.”
There was also a rise in the number of convictions under the Malicious Communications Act, which states that it is an offence to send a threatening, offensive or indecent letter, electronic communication or article with the intent to cause distress or anxiety. Last year, 694 individuals were found guilty of offences under this Act.
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